Printing metals on materials ensures comfortable, cheap and efficient biosensors

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Researchers at the University of Utah and Gyeongsang National University in South Korea have developed a convenient, low-cost bioelectric sensor that has the ability to measure electromyographic signals generated in muscles when contracted. They are useful for studying muscle fatigue and recovery, having the potential to provide information on the diagnosis and treatment of neuromuscular diseases.

The biosensor, made of silver paste with a layer of gold nanoparticles on top, is integrated directly on a piece of clothing. This has advantages beyond comfort, so soft clothing means better skin contact and also a better signal. Initially, the researchers printed silver paste directly on to the fabric because silver is conductive, making it a good material for detecting electrical signals. However, it is also somewhat toxic, so prolonged exposure can lead to skin irritation.

To capitalize on the beneficial properties of silver while solving the aforementioned problems, the team placed a layer of gold nanoparticles on top of the silver. The gold completely encapsulated the silver particles, preventing them from touching the skin. The result was a conductive and non-irritating skin detector. At the same time, the amounts of gold and silver are small enough to remain cheap.

“The signal we measure is a voltage over time,” said author Huanan Zhang. “Every time the finger moves, the potential of the muscles changes. So we are able to detect the potential difference.”

The scientists tested the biosensor’s performance by placing it on the biceps and fingers, thus monitoring the detected signal as these muscles progressed through various exercises.

Because the sensor is part of the material and is designed to be used for long periods of time, it must withstand washing. The team tested the sensor’s performance again after several washes and found that its performance remained high.

“This work not only designs a portable device that has the convenience factor, but also has excellent performance and is biocompatible,” Zhang said.

Therefore, the team believes that the use of this textile printing technique could revolutionize future bioelectrical sensors.

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