A tiny electrode fuels smart bandage technology

December 4, 2012 by Angela Herring
A tiny electrode fuels smart bandage technology
Each gold line rep­re­sents a sep­a­rate elec­tro­chem­ical device capable of detecting micro­scope bac­teria at very low con­cen­tra­tions. Credit: Edgar Goluch

(Phys.org)—Band-​​aid tech­nology has made incre­mental improve­ments in the years since its com­mer­cial intro­duc­tion in the late 1960s, the most impor­tant of which has been the incor­po­ra­tion of antibi­otics into the non­ad­he­sive padding. But imagine if adhe­sive ban­dages could do more than pas­sively pre­vent the growth of bac­teria—imagine if they could mon­itor a wound and pre­dict that growth.

DiP­i­etro assis­tant pro­fessor of chem­ical engi­neering Edgar Goluch has devel­oped an elec­tro­chem­ical sensor that could some day make these so-​​called "smart ban­dages" a reality.

Bac­teria pro­duce a host of com­pounds, he said, some of which are elec­tro­chem­i­cally active. Goluch's device, which he devel­oped with the help of grad­uate stu­dent Thad­daeus Web­ster, works by detecting these charged molecules.

Sim­ilar devices have been devel­oped in the past, Goluch noted, but they were all hin­dered by a single com­po­nent that could not be minia­tur­ized to enable the smart-​​bandage idea. Elec­tro­chem­ical sen­sors need at least two things to work: a ref­er­ence and a working elec­trode. Most of the microscale devices pre­vi­ously devel­oped used macroscale ref­er­ence elec­trodes; oth­er­wise, they were unstable in com­plex chem­ical environments.

In a paper pub­lished in the journal Lab on a Chip, Goluch and Web­ster detail the inner work­ings of a stable, microscale ref­er­ence elec­trode, which they used to detect the pres­ence of a com­pound called pyocyanin that can be found only in the bac­teria aerug­i­nosa.

Goluch said P. aerug­i­nosa is an old, pre­his­toric organism. As he put it, "It can sur­vive under extremely ."

The organism is present just about every­where and nor­mally that would not be a problem because it doesn't make healthy people sick. But for patients with com­pro­mised immune sys­tems, these bac­teria are deadly.

"We want to be able to detect the bac­teria before a biofilm forms," Goluch explained, adding that his inter­dis­ci­pli­nary back­ground, which includes grad­uate degrees in mechan­ical engi­neering and bio­engi­neering, gave him the exper­tise to develop this unique sensing system. "Early detec­tion of infec­tion and con­t­a­m­i­na­tion greatly improves a patient's chances of survival."

His device can do exactly that.

The new ref­er­ence elec­trode is made of pal­la­dium, which is capable of storing more than 900 times its volume in hydrogen, making it an extremely stable ref­er­ence. The mate­rial has pre­vi­ously been used as a pH detector for its storage capabilities.

The project's key break­through lies is palladium's ease of use and ability to be shaped into minia­ture wires, making it an ideal mate­rial to incor­po­rate into microscale sensors.

Explore further: Strumming on the nano-banjo

More information: pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2012/LC/c2lc40650k

Related Stories

Strumming on the nano-banjo

August 21, 2012

When you pluck a banjo string, you trigger a vibra­tion that res­onates at a fre­quency unique to the geom­etry and mate­rial of the string. We can dis­tin­guish that fre­quency as ...

A new kind of pub crawl

August 24, 2012

Web­sites like Face­book, LinkedIn and other social-​​media net­works con­tain mas­sive amounts of valu­able public infor­ma­tion. Auto­mated web tools called web crawlers sift through these sites, pulling out ...

Data mining in the social-media ecosystem

September 18, 2012

Ray­mond Fu, a newly appointed assis­tant pro­fessor of elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering, wants to build a better social-​​media ecosystem, one in which Face­book makes expert friend rec­om­men­da­tions ...

Recommended for you

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...

New 'self-healing' gel makes electronics more flexible

November 25, 2015

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a first-of-its-kind self-healing gel that repairs and connects electronic circuits, creating opportunities to advance the ...

Getting under the skin of a medieval mystery

November 23, 2015

A simple PVC eraser has helped an international team of scientists led by bioarchaeologists at the University of York to resolve the mystery surrounding the tissue-thin parchment used by medieval scribes to produce the first ...

Atom-sized craters make a catalyst much more active

November 24, 2015

Bombarding and stretching an important industrial catalyst opens up tiny holes on its surface where atoms can attach and react, greatly increasing its activity as a promoter of chemical reactions, according to a study by ...


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.