The power to heal at the tips of your fingers

August 9, 2012
The power to heal at the tips of your fingers

(Phys.org) -- The intricate properties of the fingertips have been mimicked and recreated using semiconductor devices in what researchers hope will lead to the development of advanced surgical gloves.

The devices, shown to be capable of responding with high precision to the stresses and strains associated with touch and finger movement, are a step towards the creation of surgical gloves for use in medical procedures such as local ablations and ultrasound scans.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University and Dalian University of Technology have published their study today, August 10, in the journal Nanotechnology.

Offering guidelines to the creation of these electrotactile stimulation devices for use on surgeons' fingertips, their paper describes the materials, fabrication strategies and device designs, using ultrathin, stretchable, silicon-based electronics and soft sensors that can be mounted onto an artificial 'skin' and fitted to fingertips.

"Imagine the ability to sense the electrical properties of tissue, and then locally remove that tissue, precisely by local ablation, all via the fingertips using smart surgical gloves. Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, could be possible," said co-author of the study Professor John Rogers.

The researchers suggest that the new technology could open up possibilities for surgical robots that can interact, in a soft contacting mode, with their surroundings through touch.

The on the 'skin' is made of patterns of gold conductive lines and ultrathin sheets of silicon, integrated onto a called polyimide. The sheet is then etched into an open mesh geometry and transferred to a of moulded into the precise shape of a finger.

This electronic 'skin', or finger cuff, was designed to measure the stresses and strains at the fingertip by measuring the change in capacitance – the ability to store electrical charge – of pairs of microelectrodes in the circuit. Applied forces decreased the spacing in the skin which, in turn, increased the capacitance.

The fingertip device could also be fitted with sensors for measuring motion and temperature, with small-scale heaters as actuators for ablation and other related operations

The researchers experimented with having the electronics on the inside of the device, in contact with wearer's skin, and also on the outside. They believe that because the device exploits materials and fabrication techniques adopted from the established semiconductor industry, the processes can be scaled for realistic use at reasonable cost.

"Perhaps the most important result is that we are able to incorporate multifunctional, silicon semiconductor device technologies into the form of soft, three-dimensional, form-fitting skins, suitable for integration not only with the fingertips but also other parts of the body," continued Professor Rogers.

Indeed, the researchers now intend to create a 'skin' for integration on other parts of the body, such as the heart. In this case, a device would envelop the entire 3D surface of the heart, like a sock, to provide various sensing and actuating functions, providing advanced surgical and diagnostic devices relevant to cardiac arrhythmias.

Future challenges include creating materials and schemes to provide the device with wireless data and power.

Explore further: Stretchable electronics device holds promise for treating irregular heart rhythms

More information: "Silicon nanomembranes for fingertip electronics" by Ming Ying et al. Nanotechnology, 23 344004 (2012) doi:10.1088/0957-4484/23/34/344004 http://iopscience.iop.org/0957-4484/23/34/344004

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New nanomaterial maintains conductivity in 3-D

September 4, 2015

An international team of scientists has developed what may be the first one-step process for making seamless carbon-based nanomaterials that possess superior thermal, electrical and mechanical properties in three dimensions.

Graphene made superconductive by doping with lithium atoms

September 2, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers from Germany and Canada has found a way to make graphene superconductive—by doping it with lithium atoms. In their paper they have uploaded to the preprint server arXiv, the team describes ...

Making nanowires from protein and DNA

September 3, 2015

The ability to custom design biological materials such as protein and DNA opens up technological possibilities that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. For example, synthetic structures made of DNA could one day be ...

For 2-D boron, it's all about that base

September 2, 2015

Rice University scientists have theoretically determined that the properties of atom-thick sheets of boron depend on where those atoms land.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.