Conductive polymer set for leap from flexi-phones to medical sensors

Polymer technology that makes smartphones and other electronic devices more flexible could one day help save lives through better health monitoring.

New polymer film that could make smartphones more bendable may one day be used to create tailor-made sensors that could non-invasively monitor biomedical metrics

The glass-like polymer being developed at Purdue University – made from long chains that contain radical groups – conducts electricity for transparent and flexible electronics.

It is claimed that with the the look at feel of glass, the polymer film can be inexpensively and sustainably produced on a large scale as it originates from earth-abundant materials. According to Purdue, its cost effectiveness also has advantages over polymers already used for electronics that rely on expensive chemistry and chemical doping to achieve high conductivity.

“We have made a giant leap in polymer production by better matching the mechanical properties of organic materials used to create them and helping to avoid catastrophic failures with electronic display screens,” said Bryan Boudouris, the Robert and Sally Weist Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, who led the research team.

Brett Savoie, an assistant professor of chemical engineering who served as a senior member of the research team, said the new polymer is also the central platform for research at the Purdue-based Materials Innovation for Bioelectronics from Intrinsically-stretchable Organics (Mi-Bio) centre. The researchers there are working to use this new polymer film to create tailor-made sensors that could non-invasively monitor glucose levels, heart rate or other biomedical metrics.

The Purdue polymer film could be modified, using specific molecules or ions, to target and selectively interact with various biological components inside the body. It could be worn as a nearly invisible patch on the skin.

“It’s incredible to be part of the Purdue team that’s leveraging the enormous chemical flexibility of these materials to create life-saving technology,” Savoie said.

The team at Purdue is working on a patent for the innovation and seeking partners to continue developing it.