Taking your temperature can reveal more than a just fever. For instance, analyzing tiny, regular variations in body temperature can provide insight into how blood vessels are constricting and dilating, which is linked to cardiovascular health, and can even shed light on a person’s mental state. But how often do you actually pull out the thermometer to check your temperature? If there was a seamless device that could measure body temperature in real-time, perhaps it would be easier for all of us to stay on top of our health, and catch potential risks before they develop.
Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a wearable, flexible thermometer only 50 microns wide, or about half the width of the average human hair. The sensors are made of thin gold wires and silicon membranes mounted on an ultra-thin rubbery sheet, which is perforated to help the skin breathe and behave naturally. The device can stick onto human skin and measure temperatures down to thousandths of a degree. The delicate sensor gathers clinically useful data such as blood flow and skin hydration with extremely high sensitivity.
The device can be attached to the skin using a special glue to continuously measure the peripheral temperature of that region, and can be manufactured large enough to sense the skin temperature over wide areas of the body with millikelvin precision. Because the technology has a very high temporal resolution, it can also be used to measure tissue thermal conductivity.
With a simple change, the sensors can behave as heaters if desired. Precisely controlled levels of heating of the skin could have therapeutic use – for instance, it could assist delivery of drugs into the blood, or help the body absorb nutrients critical to healing a wound rapidly, and with a lower risk of infection. The low profile of this device is what give it the potential become so useful, bonding to the body almost like a second skin and providing constant feedback on the wearer’s physical condition.
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