Study: Liquid-based wearable sensor may help track babies' heart, breathing rates

Study data published in the journal Nanoscale suggests that a liquid-based wearable sensor could potentially enable parents concerned about the risk of sudden infant death syndrome to track their babies' heart and breathing rates with automatic smartphone updates, while the technology could also help track sick babies in remote parts of the world. Study lead Alan Dalton remarked that "using the conducting liquid emulsions we have developed, we will produce cheap, wearable sensors based on graphene." He added that "we will eventually have a suit that the baby can wear which will read-out all vital information wirelessly."

In the study, the researchers created a liquid made from an emulsion of graphene, water and oil, which conducts electricity. The authors noted that "when a channel or tube holding the liquid is stretched…the conductivity of the liquid changes," which means that the heart and breathing rates of people wearing the device can be tracked. 

According to the authors, "the unobtrusive sensors are the most sensitive liquid-based devices to have ever been developed." Matthew Large, lead researcher, explained that "when the graphene particles are assembled around the liquid droplets electrons can hop from one particle to the next," but "when we stretch our sensors we squeeze and deform the droplets; this moves the graphene particles further apart and makes it much harder for the electrons to hop across the system."

Dalton further noted that the sensor has the potential to greatly improve early detection of life-threatening symptoms such as sleep apnoea or cardiac arrhythmia, adding that "the ultimate potential is wider than that. Anyone interested in tracking their heart or respiration rates…may be interested to wear this technology."

The researchers said they have created a prototype and are talking to commercial sponsors to fund further research, aiming to launch the product. Dalton added that "we hope to see this made available within two to four years."

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