Ultrathin e-skin could display medical information

Engineers from the University of Tokyo have created an ultrathin material embedded with electronics that could be used as a visual display for information such as medical data.

The electronic skin, or e-skin, is described in the journal Scientific Advances. It consists of a protective film less than two micrometres thick made from alternating layers of inorganic silicon oxynitrite and organic parylene. Under this, transparent indium tin oxide (ITO) electrodes are attached to an ultrathin substrate.

The e-skin could be used to display medical information. (Credit: Someya Laboratory)
The e-skin could be used to display medical information. (Credit: Someya Laboratory)

Combining the electrodes with the film enabled the team to create polymer light-emitting diodes (PLEDs) thin enough to attach to skin, but flexible enough to adapt to body movement. The PLEDs are just three micrometres thick and over six times more efficient than other ultrathin PLEDs. According to the researchers, this makes the e-skin suitable for medical applications such as displaying patients’ blood oxygen concentration or pulse rate, and could even change the way people interact with each other.

“The advent of mobile phones has changed the way we communicate,” said Professor Takao Someya from the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Engineering.

“While these communication tools are getting smaller and smaller, they are still discrete devices that we have to carry with us. What would the world be like if we had displays that could adhere to our bodies and even show our emotions or level of stress or unease? In addition to not having to carry a device with us at all times, they might enhance the way we interact with those around us or add a whole new dimension to how we communicate.”

As well as facilitating the PLED display, the protective film also prevented the passage of oxygen and water vapour in the air, extending the lifetime of the device to several days, rather than the few hours seen in previous research.