The development of stretchable oxide electronics has seen an RMIT University engineer named one of Australia’s top innovators. The breakthrough could also help beat skin cancer.
Approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, with the condition also causing thousands of deaths each year.
Now, transparent, unbreakable and wearable electronics developed by Associate Professor Madhu Bhaskaran could help stop the spread of the deadly disease.
Bhaskaran has found a way to combine oxide materials (think the stuff that makes up the transparent layer on mobile phone touchscreens) with stretchable, rubber-like membranes.
It’s a breakthrough that has seen the researcher from the School of Engineering named as one of Australia’s most innovative engineers for 2017 – a prestigious honour given to only 30 people by Engineers Australia annually.
“For the first time, I have demonstrated a universal transfer process that enables the incorporation of various oxide materials into elastomeric substrates for applications in wearable electronics and sensing,” Bhaskaran says.
“This has been utilised to develop news devices like UV sensors that are stretchable, optically transparent, and as thin as a sticker.”
It’s these wearable UV sensors that could help stop the spread of skin cancer.
Bhaskaran’s incredible research also has the potential to help revolutionise the field of wearable electronics. The incorporation of her novel functional materials could make devices more lightweight, cost less, and provide better conformity.
“The ability to create light-weight non-obtrusive sensors in the form of wearable patches or ‘electronic skin’ using biocompatible materials creates significant opportunity in health and performance monitoring,” Bhaskaran says.
“Devices to alert people to dangerous exposure levels of pollutants or UV, to track health parameters, and to diagnose ailments such as cardiac function or sleep disorders in a wireless manner will significantly improve basic and chronic health management, improving people’s standard of life.”
It is not just healthcare that stands to benefit. The ability to now combine brittle oxide materials with rubber-like membranes could also lead to transparent electronics, sensors to detect dangerous gases in mines, flat optical devices and even smart contact lenses.
In a world where seeing is believing, Bhaskaran’s incredible research is opening eyes.
Australia’s most innovative engineers are profiled in the July issue of Engineers Australia’s flagship magazine, create.
The list highlights the 30 most innovative engineers in Australia across 10 categories. More than 200 engineers either self-nominated or were nominated by peers for inclusion in the list.
Associate Professor Bhaskaran's research on stretchable oxide electronics is funded by a three-year ARC Discovery Early Career Award, "Flexible transparent oxides -- the future of electronics is clear".
Story: James Giggacher