[Image above] Chewing gum’s stretchability inspires a new wearable sensor. Credit: Bodie Strain; Flickr CC BY 2.0
Inspiration for innovations in materials science can come from unexpected sources.
Researchers at San Diego State University are using puffed rice cereal as an experimental medium to uncover phenomena of materials science.
Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are looking to the natural adhesives used by mussels and barnacles to develop a method to make synthetic, sticky hydrogel that is more than 90% water yet incredibly strong.
And a group of researchers from the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), and Nestle are probing chocolate with X-rays to study how fat bloom forms on the surface of our favorite confection.
In the latest development of surprising muses for materials science innovation, scientists are developing a new stretchable, wearable sensor made from something you find stuck to the bottom of your shoe on an unlucky day: chewing gum.
Scientists report in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces a unique sensing device made of chewing gum and carbon nanotubes that can move and bend with your body and still accurately track vitals like your breathing.
“Most conventional sensors today are very sensitive and detect the slightest movement, but many are made out of metal. That means when they’re twisted or pulled too much, they stop working. But for sensors to monitor the full range of a body’s bending and stretching, they need a lot more give,” according to an American Chemical Society news release about the study.
To up the flexibility factor, other researchers have turned to using stretchable plastics and silicones.
“But what they gained in flexibility, they lost in sensitivity,” the release explains.
Malcolm Xing, professor of engineering at the University of Manitoba in Canada, and his colleagues found that chewing gum could make an effectively supple sensor.
To make the sensor, a team member chewed a typical piece of gum for 30 minutes, washed it with ethanol and let it sit overnight. Then, the team added the sensing material—a solution of carbon nanotubes.
“Simple pulling and folding coaxed the tubes to align properly. Human finger-bending and head-turning tests showed the material could keep working with high sensitivity even when strained 530%,” the release explains.
The sensor also could detect humidity changes, a feature that could be used to track breathing, which releases water vapor each time a person exhales.
A video produced by ACS demonstrates the technology. Check it out below.
Credit: American Chemical Society; YouTube
The paper, published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, is “Gum sensor: A stretchable, wearable, and foldable sensor based on carbon nanotube/chewing gum membrane” (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.5b08276).