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Sensor discovery more than skin-deep

AFP-JIJI

University of Tokyo researchers have developed a micro-thin thermal sensor that can be applied directly on a person’s skin, which could be useful in monitoring the health of infants or even making sportswear more comfortable.

The research group said the device, embedded in ultra-fine film, can measure target temperatures between 25 and 50 degrees, a range that includes that of the human body.

The finding, made in collaboration with the University of Texas, was published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Professor Takao Someya, who heads the research team working on such flexible devices, said the electronic circuit composed of graphite and a semi-crystalline acrylate polymer, is just 15 micrometers in thickness, or about one-fourth that of a human hair.

Someya said the sensors can be printed onto adhesive plasters that can be used to monitor body temperature.

“For example, a plaster applied directly to a wound or after surgery could provide warning of infection by detecting local changes in temperature due to inflammation,” he told reporters on Monday.

“By putting it on the skin of a baby you can easily check the infant’s body temperature . . . or measuring changes in body temperature over a large area could help develop comfortable (clothing).”

Someya said the materials are cheap and widely used in manufacturing. He envisions the device being commercialized for practical use in as soon as three years.

The team tested the sensor by placing it directly on the lung of a rat to measure the organ’s temperature. “The device successfully measured cyclic changes in lung temperature of just 0.1 degree centigrade as the animal breathed, demonstrating its utility as a sensor for monitoring body vital signs in physiological settings,” research associate Tomoyuki Yokota said.