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Wearable graphene sensors to monitor the health of babies

One concern that parents face with a new baby is the risk of cot death (also known as ‘sudden infant death syndrome‘). The exact cause of SIDS is unknown; however there is a probable requirement for a combination of factors, including a specific underlying susceptibility, a specific time in development, and an environmental stressor, to coincide. While there are multiple reasons for this syndrome, a decline with various aspects of a babies physiology can be monitored, allowing parents to take action.

The new technology comes from researchers based at the University of Sussex, U.K. The aim of the new sensor is to allow parents to keep track of their new babies’ heart and breathing rates. This is in the form of automatic, real-time updates sent to their smartphones.

Manufacturing accurate and low cost sensors is possible through graphene, according to lead researcher Professor Alan Dalton. A team, led by the scientist, has developed a liquid created from an emulsion of graphene, water and oil. This emulsion can conducts electricity.

This utilizes the special properties of graphene. Graphene is formed from carbon atoms in the form of a two-dimensional lattice. The material is transparent, very strong and good conductor of electricity. When in an emulsion form and contained in a tube, as a tube is stretched the conductivity value alters. This allows for pulses and respiration rates to be tracked at a high level of sensitivity, monitoring conditions like sleep apnea or cardiac arrhythmia.

The whole emulsion is conductive because the graphene particles are assembled around the liquid droplets, and this enables electrons to leap from one particle to the next.

These properties have led to the construction of a prototype sensor which is small an unobtrusive, resembling a “fitness tracker”-like band. The prototype has been successfully tested, although further data needs to be gathered; the aim is to bring a commercial product to market within the next two-to-four years.

Speaking with Controlled Environments magazine, Professor Dalton said where the idea for the device came from: “I came up with the idea for the new graphene emulsion at the core of this technology while making salad dressing — which is a type of emulsion — at home with my daughter. It’s amazing how, as scientists, we take inspiration from the everyday world around us.”

The research has been published in the journal Nanoscale. The research paper is titled “Functional liquid structures by emulsification of graphene and other two-dimensional nanomaterials.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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