Wearable sensors were ‘the’ fashion accessories of 2016

Researchers developed an armful of devices that monitor health and chemical exposure

Michael Torrice

Personal exercise gadgets and smartphone apps allow people to keep track of their heart rate, blood pressure, and how far they have run. Some researchers want to go a step further and develop devices that analyze chemicals in a person’s sweat or in the environment to monitor health, exercise performance, or chemical exposure risk. Here are three devices reported this year.

This graphene-based patch (top circuit on wrist band) can measure glucose levels in a person’s sweat via an electrochemical reaction involving the enzyme glucose oxidase. The device’s developers, led by Dae-Hyeong Kim of Seoul National University, want to couple it with a patch of microneedles (bottom circuit on wrist band) that can deliver diabetes drugs through the skin to help patients control their blood sugar (Nat. Nanotechnol. 2016, DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2016.38).
Credit: Nat. Nanotechnol.


A flexible poly(ethylene terephthalate) sheet carries a circuit board and sensor array to detect salt levels, lactate, and glucose in a user’s sweat, potentially allowing the person to receive alerts for conditions such as dehydration, muscle cramps, or even diabetes. The team, led by Ali Javey of the University of California, Berkeley, thinks the device can be manufactured for about $10 (Nature 2016, DOI: 10.1038/nature16521).
Credit: Nature


Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemists, led by Timothy M. Swager, designed this wireless badge to detect chemical-warfare-like molecules at parts-per-billion levels. The device is based on carbon nanotubes that are immersed in an ionic liquid and that change their resistance in the presence of the electrophilic target molecules (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2016, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201604431).
Credit: Joseph Azzarelli


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