Lose a patch of skin while you’re deep in a jungle and you may have to wait until you reach civilization for care and a replacement artificial skin. Suffer the same predicament at home and you may have all you need in your junk drawer to create your own ‘smart skin’ that works like the real thing and costs only $1.67. Gather up some aluminum foil, tape and Post-It notes and find out how.
Muhammad Mustafa Hussain is an associate professor of electrical engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. He is also the head of the school’s Integrated Nanotechnology Laboratory where engineers try to solve big problems using everyday household items. One such problem that caught Hussain’s attention was the need for effective yet affordable artificial skin for wounded war veterans and burn victims.
Hussain says researchers become enamored with new and expensive technology – in the case of artificial skin, carbon nanotubes – that may work but are too expensive to be practical. And practical and affordable are the key words at his lab. To solve the need for artificial human skin that can sense pressure, feel temperature, and detect humidity and motion simultaneously, Hussain opened the junk drawer and found what he needed.
Pressure detection was accomplished by sponges. Motion was sensed by the aluminum foil. Graphite from pencils determined acidity. Conductive silver ink from a pen sensed temperature. And those sticky notes found stuck to everything were used to sense humidity. Three layers of this so-called “paper skin” were connected to measuring devices. At this point, every do-it-yourselfer can stand up and cheer – the paper skin worked!
According to Hussain’s report in Advanced Materials Technologies, a 6.5-centimeter square (1 square inch) of paper skin uses $1.67 worth of stuff already found in most household junk drawers. If you’re laughing or skeptical, he understands.
The establishment was not happy that we used such ridiculously available material. I’m not against carbon nanotubes or any other materials. But tomorrow should be today.
Those who need artificial skin – veterans, burn victims – don’t care whether their artificial skin is high-tech or low-tech as long as it works … today. Hussain expects “Paper Skin” to be available for those in need within two years.
“Tomorrow should be today.” That sounds a good philosophy for all of us.