Engineers have demonstrated that the simple combination of pencils and paper could be used to create devices that might be used to monitor personal health. Many existing commercial on-skin biomedical devices often contain two major components — a biomedical tracking component and a surrounding flexible material such as plastic — to provide a supportive structure for the component to maintain an on-skin connection with a person's body.

The conventional approach for developing an on-skin biomedical electronic device is usually complex and often expensive to produce. The new approach is low-cost and simple — it can be made using widely available pencils and paper.

The team discovered that pencils containing more than 90% graphite are able to conduct a high amount of energy created from the friction between paper and pencil caused by drawing or writing. Specifically, they found pencils with 93% graphite were the best for creating a variety of on-skin bioelectronic devices drawn on commercial office copy paper. A biocompatible spray-on adhesive also could be applied to the paper to help it stick better to a person's skin.

The discovery could have broad future applications in home-based, personalized healthcare, education, and remote scientific research such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. The next step would be to further develop and test the use of the biomedical components including electrophysiological, temperature, and biochemical sensors.

If someone has a sleep issue, for example, they could draw a biomedical device that could help monitor their sleep levels. In the classroom, a teacher could engage students by incorporating the creation of a wearable device using pencils and paper into a lesson plan. Furthermore, this low-cost, easily customizable approach could allow scientists to conduct research at home such as during a pandemic.

An additional benefit to this approach is that paper can decompose in about a week, compared to many commercial devices that contain components that are not easily broken down.

For more information, contact Eric Stann at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 573-882-3346.


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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