Biosensors as temporary tattoos

Continuing efforts to more seamlessly integrate biosensors with our bodies, Princeton University researchers developed a temporary tattoo-like platform for "epidermal electronics." Nanoengineer Michael McAlpine and his colleagues published their work in last week's issue of the journal Science. From Science News:
 Site Icons Shared Rotator Rt Sci Aug12 Kim The electronic components — which can include light-emitting diodes, solar cells, transistors and antennae, among other things — were all constructed in a malleable net of wavy S-shapes similar to old-fashioned coiled telephone cords, which allows the circuits to work when stretched in any direction.

The researchers sandwiched these components between two protective layers of polyimide, a type of polymer. These layers sit on top of a rubbery silicone film that adheres to skin with weak chemical bonds. The device can also be applied in a temporary tattoo, which both disguises the grid and makes it stick longer.

Rogers is focused on medical applications for the electronic skin. But the basic building blocks of the system can be configured in many ways for widely different uses, he says.

“I think creative folks out there will think of things we haven’t even contemplated,” Rogers says.

For example, the technology has drawn the interest of security-minded people who might be interested in using the electronics to develop a covert communication system. “CIA and others have been interested,” Rogers says. A tiny hidden patch of electronics on the throat, for instance, could allow two agents to covertly communicate with one another. The electronics could detect and transmit muscle activity that represents words, all without the person making a sound.

"Computers Get Under Our Skin"


  1. ‘ “I think creative folks out there will think of things we haven’t even contemplated,” Rogers says.’

    Like, eliminating currency, enslaving mankind, remote control death?   <==  sry, I do so like me a good conspiracy.

  2. The impact on clinical trials will be immense as far as monitoring goes.  Neonatal screening, diabetes monitoring, BP, fluid/salt balance, sports.  Egads, I gotta get me some of those.  Can they run Linux I wonder?

    Obligatory XKCD reference:

  3. NWOers shouldn’t worry too much just yet; still no reliable way to power them (at least none mentioned in the abstract). Even then, assuming they are using RFID to transmit and receive data; there is a limited range for reading said data and you have to have a special device to read it (sure you can get RFID reads on ebay, but how many have you seen on the shelves at your favorite electronics store)?

    1. Huh? Solar was mentioned, and an antenna can be used for both data and to receive broadcast power. Yes, a special reader will be necessary as RFID is not made for continuous data transmitting, for heartbeat, blood pressure, etc.

      I can see them first being used in a hospital setting, with EVERYONE getting one, patients, guests, nurses, doctors, and all support staff. Being able to track everyone and everything down to 1″ accuracy would be wonderful in the event of a transmissible disease outbreak. I’d bet at 5 million cost to setup and $5 per use they would pay for themselves quickly in reducing normal contagious diseases. You could tell if a nurse or doc didn’t wash their hands, a guest who wandered in to a wrong area, or find that patient who is having a mental problem with a drug reaction who wandered off.

      IF you are worried about tracking, you might want to stop carrying a cellphone and driving your OnStar equipped car.

      1. I was referring to the link (missed the article the first time around). Still wireless coils and solar power are not the end all reliable solution for long term powering of the patches. These would be great for hospitals; whether its tracking patient vitals, position, or history.

        I’m not sure how the chip could tell if you washed your hands or not, but having drug allergies pop up on a display for the staff would be immensely helpful.

        If anyone gets them first I think its going to the the CIA. The potential for spying and covert communications is just too great.

  4. Revelation 13:16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: Revelation 13:17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Revelation 13:18 Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six. (666)

    1. Temporary-tattoo mark o’ de beast! Like if the Antichrist was marketing pure EVULZ in specially-marked boxes of Cap’n Crunch.

  5. I’m predicting…an external regulatory/immune system, Deus Ex HR style.
    Whoa, deja vu there for a second as I typed that.

  6. Correction: This did not involve Princeton – the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was an integral part of this effort. Professor John Rogers of the U of I led the team, which also included other researchers from the U of I. The Science article quotes a Princeton researcher at the top of the story about how cool this development is, but that doesn’t mean Princeton was the research entity involved:

  7. I like this but it’s got a long ways to go before it’s going to do something significant such as be a cellphone. A typical phone these days has at least a square inch of silicon, but most of that is for the smarts, not the phone. It would also have to suck large quantities of juice from your arm to power the chips. Remember the lemon-powered radio? Now you’re the lemon.

    1. One watt. That’s about what it takes to power a phone while it’s in use (as a phone). Your body? ~100W resting, more during exercise.

      Now, do I want devices that feed on my blood? Not really. But it wouldn;t exactly be a huge draw on the body.

  8. my dad actually wrote a  science fiction book that “got creative” with this idea. biosensor tattoos link up with a social networking site (“ebocloud”) and people can write programs that would, for instance, compel a bunch of untrained strangers to complete a perfect gamelan piece or play a game of human etch-a-sketch. having read that, this post makes me pretty excited.

  9. Neonatal and diabetes management would be excellent uses for something like this.  In fact, I’d love to stick one on my kid when he’s sick so I know his vitals since his verbal skills and cooperation level with traditional techniques leave me guessing if he has a fever, a toothache, or is just cranky.

  10. God, I know there is potential for good here, but I hate to see it anyway. You just know this is the way things will go in the future (your entire medical record on your wrist, or whatever), and I’m sorry to see the first steps of mass cyborgization. Don’t know if I can put into words why that is (but I also don’t like sex toys ; )  )

  11. The self-monitoring nerds are going to go crazy with this.  Image the fun you could have optimizing your trailmix to maintain steady blood sugar!  (Actually, that sounds useful to me as a cyclist; by the time you bonk, you’re often too stupid from bloodbrainfail to realize it)

  12. That’s some sloppy blogging guys. the team was from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Michael McAlpine is just a Princeton engineer who happens to have been approached by Science News for a quote – the lead author is Dae-Hyeong Kim

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