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Sensor offers superhuman touch

Researchers in North America have developed a sensor that could allow burn victims to feel again.

Using nanotechnology techniques, a team from the University of Connecticut (Uconn) is developing a sensor that could lead to the creation of artificial skin capable of replicating – and even surpassing – the sensing ability of human skin. “It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” explained Uconn chemist, Islam Mosa.

Islam and fellow UConn chemist, James Rusling, along with University of Toronto engineer, Abdelsalam Ahmed, have already made a sensor using a silicone tube that is ‘wrapped in a copper wire and filled with a special fluid made of tiny particles of iron oxide just one billionth of a meter long, called nanoparticles’. An electric current is generated when the nanoparticles move around the tube, with the copper wire picking it up as a signal, which are different depending on what the tube rubs against. The researchers hope the breakthrough could result in artificial skin that gives burn victims a sense of touch, offers parents a wearable monitor for their kids that would, for example, provide an alert if they fell into dangerous waters. It is also hoped it would ‘act as an early warning for workers exposed to dangerously high magnetic fields’.

The next steps are to test the sensor and see how it responds to heat and cold, and ultimately to ‘make the sensor in a flat configuration, more like skin, and see if it still works’.

The research was published in a paper in Advanced Materials.

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