Early detection plays a critical role in saving lives, whether that is in industrial settings where workers could be exposed to toxic gases or even normal people out in the sun exposed to UV rays. A new type of stretchy sensor developed by researchers at RMIT Australia can be worn on clothing or even the skin, and alert wearers to dangerous exposures. The transparent and non-breakable sensors are cheap and can be used in larger schemes to electronically monitor pollution levels, gases and much more.
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Madhu Bhaskaran, co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, heads up the project to develop these stretchy sensors. Transparent and flexible, the sensors can be worn on the skin like a nicotine patch or attached to clothing. The durable and inexpensive electronic could be used to monitor and detect a variety of harmful substances. “Hydrogen leaks can lead to explosions as happened with the Hindenburg disaster and nitrogen dioxide is a major contributor to smog,” Bhaskaran said. “The ability to monitor such gases in production facilities and coal-fired power stations gives vital early warning of explosions, while the ability to sense nitrogen dioxide allows for a constant monitoring of pollution levels in crowded cities.”
The wearable sensors also feature very thin layers of zinc oxide as the UV sensing material. Much like plate tectonics, the hundreds of super thin layers of zinc oxide can slide over each other, which allows for the flexibility and durability of the material. Eventually these stretchy sensors can be connected to a network that monitors pollution, gas, UV and other harmful levels. This would widen the sensor’s capability of just alerting the individual wearer to monitoring larger systems and areas letting factories, cities or other organizations keep track of pollutants.