Scientists from the University of Connecticut and University of Toronto created a new type of sensor that could potentially be made to an artificial skin. This can protect and aid the perception of burn victims, or those who are losing their skin sensitivity?
However, why do we have to limit it to humane levels if we can create it to have superhuman abilities? Maybe like detecting dangerous conditions or electromagnetic waves.
How Important is Our Skin?
Skin is the largest organ in the body in terms of size. It covers almost every area in our body. Imagine if we don’t have skin. Environmental factors such as allergens, bacteria, fungus, viruses, water, chemicals, and others can freely enter our body. Many people will die every day from infection.
The skin also regulates our body heat through sweating, creates important vitamin D from the sun, and protects our body against harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.
But the importance of our skin does not just stop from that. Often taken for granted is our skin’s ability to perceive pressure, temperature, and vibration, which is also critical for our safety. This is the reason why burn victims, those who have lost skin sensitivity and those with prosthetic limbs often hurt themselves unintentionally.
Sensor to Skin Perception
In a paper published in Advanced Materials, researchers created a sensor which could mimic the perception properties of skin. The sensor has a “rubber exterior” which is completely sealed and waterproof.
It is made with a silicone tube wrapped in a copper wire. The tube is filled with a special fluid made of nanoparticles of iron oxide. As the nanoparticles rub around the inside of the silicone tube, it would create an electric current. The copper wire around the tube would then picks up the electric currents as a signal.
When the tube touched is bumped by something experiencing pressure or sound waves, the sensor will send a signal. This signal is different depending on each situation. That is, there are different types of signals produced for the two senses making it easier to differentiate between the three.
Additionally, the sensor could pick up different signals for electromagnetic fields. After several demonstrations, they found that a person moving around while carrying the sensor could differentiate and identify the electrical signals caused by walking, jumping, running, and swimming.
Superhuman Skin Perception?
If the sensor could do these, how about other things that are beyond human capability? “It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” said Islam M. Mosa, one of the authors of the study said.
The researcher said they are not looking for something like indestructible iron skin from superhero comics. Instead, the goal is something that could help people to detect possible dangers. For example, send a warning to workers on areas with dangerously high magnetic fields.
The sensor has not yet tested the sensor on hot and cold temperatures, but they suspect it will send different signals for those as well. If not, they will have to tweak and reconfigure it a bit. The researchers added that their next plan is to make the sensor flat, like skin and test if it still works.
“The inspiration was to make something durable that would last for a very long time, and could detect multiple hazards,” Mosa stated.