Sensors made using seaweed could become part of healthcare and fitness solutions in the very future, researchers have found.
Using seaweed mixed with graphene, rock salt and water, a research team at the UK’s University of Sussex led by a former chemistry teacher has created a health sensor that could take the form of an electrically conductive layer that behaves like a ‘second skin’ or temporary tattoo.
1. Highly accurate and better for the patient and environment
The new ‘wearable technology’ would allow the performance of athletes and patients in healthcare settings to be monitored with high accuracy, since tests show the substance measures vital signs like temperature and heart-rate more precisely than existing rubber and plastic-based versions.
The user experience for patients and athletes could be revolutionised by the lightweight, easily-applied and natural spongy layer. It would be less invasive than probes and less cumbersome than wired equipment.
What’s more, the innovative seaweed and nanomaterial layer is biodegradable (and even edible). As a result it has the potential to mitigate the environmental impact of other health and fitness devices that leach polluting particles into water sources as they break down.
As a new parent, I see it as my responsibility to ensure my research enables the realization of a cleaner world for all our children.Dr. Conor Boland, a physicist at the University of Sussex who supervised the research team
2. Inspired by Masterchef
Boland realised he could try out seaweed in a health monitoring device while he was watching a well-known TV cooking show.
“I was first inspired to use seaweed in the lab after watching MasterChef during lockdown. Seaweed, when used to thicken deserts, gives them a soft and bouncy structure — favored by vegans and vegetarians as an alternative to gelatin. It got me thinking: ‘what if we could do that with sensing technology?’
3. More than proof of principle
Dr Sue Baxter, Director of Innovation and Business Partnerships at the University of Sussex, praised the “truly sustainable, affordable and highly effective” innovation, adding:
“What’s also remarkable for this stage of research — and I think this speaks to the meticulous ground-work that Dr Boland and his team put in when they created their blueprint — is that it’s more than a proof of principle development. Our Sussex scientists have created a device that has real potential for industry development into a product from which you or I could benefit in the relatively near future.”