Biomedical Engineering Blog

Biomedical Engineering

The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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At Your Fingertips

Posted September 28, 2012 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Surgical gloves are worn by all types of health care professionals to keep both the patient and the caregiver safe. Recently a group of scientists have developed an advanced sensing platform that fits like a glove.

Image Credit: gloveuniversity.com

The new sensing platform is built into silicon nanomembranes and is capable of responding with high precision to the stresses and strains associated with touch and finger movement. The electronic, or active, components use advanced machine design and are made of patterns of gold conductive lines and ultrathin sheets of silicon, integrated onto a flexible polymer polymide. The mesh structure is then printed onto silicon rubber via a process called transfer printing. The ultrathin, stretchable, elastomeric sheets of rubber are molded into a finger-tube shape so it can easy fit on a fingertip. Transfer printing delivers the device mesh structure to the outer surface of the finger-tube, while pressed into a flattened geometry.

The multifunction devices have an electrotactile stimulator on the inside, and strain gauge arrays and tactile sensors on the outside. The electronics are capable of accommodating large strains induced by natural deformation of the fingertip tube and, unique to this device, when the tube is flipped inside out. The "flipping over" process allows sensors to function on the outer surface of the tube as well as the inner surface, where they can press directly against the skin when mounted on the finger.

Image Credit:Nanotechnology

Electrotactile stimulation allows information to be presented through the skin. The artificial sensation of touch is perceived as a vibration or tingling feeling. The stresses and strains are measured via changes in capacitance of pairs of microelectrodes in the circuit. Tactile sensors are used to measure the pressure created by physical contact and provide information for feedback loops with the electrotactile process. The fingertip tactile sensors can also include sensors for motion and temperature.

The applications for this type of device overlap with simulated surgery, therapeutic devices, robotic manipulation, and more. Adaptation from well-developed techniques means that the fabrication process can be scaled for realistic use at a reasonable cost. Challenges include creating new materials and schemes to supply wireless data and power to the device. The next step for this team is to create a "skin" for integration on other parts of the body, such as the heart, which would envelop the entire surface of the heart to deliver various sensing and actuating functions to provide diagnostic information.

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