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TCD team make sensor from rubber bands

Wednesday, August 20 12:27:24

Researchers at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, and the School of Physics, TCD, have discovered a method of creating wearable sensors from rubber bands.

They added graphene to shop-bought rubber bands; the first time this has ever been achieved worldwide.

Working with researchers from the University of Surrey, their findings have been published in ACS Nano, a leading international nanoscience publication.

The team - led by Professor Jonathan Coleman, one of the world's leading nanoscientists - infused rubber bands with graphene, a nano-material derived from pencil lead which is 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

This process is simple and compatible with normal manufacturing techniques. While rubber does not normally conduct electricity, the addition of graphene made the rubber bands electrically conductive without degrading the mechanical properties of the rubber. Tests showed that, any electrical current flowing through the graphene-infused rubber bands was very strongly affected if the band was stretched. As a result, if the band is attached to clothing, the tiniest movements such as breath and pulse can be sensed.

The discovery opens up a host of possibilities for the development of wearable sensors from rubber, which could be used to monitor blood pressure, joint movement, respiration and blood glucose. Other applications of rubber-graphene sensors could be in the automotive industry (to develop sensitive airbags); in robotics, in medical device development (to monitor bodily motion), as early warning systems for cot death in babies or sleep apnoea in adults. They could also be woven into clothing to monitor athletes' movement or for patients undergoing physical rehabilitation.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, AMBER, said, "Sensors are becoming extremely important in medicine, wellness and exercise, medical device manufacturing, car manufacturing and robotics, among other areas. Biosensors, which are worn on or implanted into the skin, must be made of durable, flexible and stretchable materials that respond to the motion of the wearer. By implanting graphene into rubber, a flexible natural material, we are able to completely change its properties to make it electrically conductive, to develop a completely new type of sensor. Because rubber is available widely and cheaply, this unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide."

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