The Potential of 3D Printed Electronic Skin

Researchers at Texas A&M University have created a 3D-printed electronic skin.

Image Courtesy of INMYWORK Studio

Human skin has over 1,000 nerve endings, making it the brain's greatest sensory organ connected to the externalen vironment. Touch, pressure, and temperature all provide a variety of feedback. Skin is an essential organ because of its intricate properties, which also make it difficult to reproduce.

A 3D-printed electronic skin (E-skin) that can stretch, flex, and sense like human skin has been created by Texas A&M University researchers using nano engineered hydrogels that have programmable electrical and thermal biosensing capabilities.

“The ability to replicate the sense of touch and integrate it into various technologies opens up new possibilities for human-machine interaction and advanced sensory experiences,” said Dr. Akhilesh Gaharwar, professor and director of research for the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “It can potentially revolutionize industries and improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities.”

The E-skin will have a wide range of applications in the future, such as wearable medical devices that continuously track vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, mobility, and temperature. These gadgets will also give users feedback and assist them in developing better motor skills and coordination, reports Printed Electronics.

“The inspiration behind developing E-skinis rooted in the desire to create more advanced and versatile interfaces between technology, the human body and the environment,” Gaharwar said. “The most exciting aspect of this research is its potential applications in robotics, prosthetics, wearable technology, sports and fitness, security systems and entertainment devices.”

Gaharwar's lab invented the E-skin technology, which is described in a report published by Advanced Functional Materials. The paper's lead authors are Drs. Kaivalya Deo '22, a former student of Gaharwar who is currently employed as a scientist at Axent Biosciences, and Shounak Roy, a former Fulbright Nehru doctoral fellow in Gaharwar's lab.

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The development of robust materials that can replicate human skin's elasticity, incorporate bioelectrical sensing capabilities, and use fabrication techniques appropriate for wearable or implantable devices are obstacles in the process of creating E-skin.

“In the past, the stiffness of these systems was too high for our body tissues, preventing signal transduction and creating mechanical mismatch at the biotic-abiotic interface,” Deo said. “We introduced a ‘triple-crosslinking’ strategy to the hydrogel-based system, which allowed us to address one of the key limitations in the field of flexible bioelectronics.”

Because hydrogels can reduce viscosity under shear stress during E-skin synthesis, making handling and manipulation easier, using nanoengineered hydrogels tackles some of the difficult aspects of E-skin development during 3D printing. According to the team, this property makes it easier to build intricate 2D and 3D electronic structures, which is crucial for simulating the complex architecture of human skin.

Sam Draper
February 2, 2024

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