New research innovations from scientists at the University of Sussex could revolutionise the way we monitor babies’ health.
Babies in intensive care are often bundled up in wires and buttons, each checking and monitoring the child’s vital signs. However, a team of scientists could have potentially found a wireless solution to this problem, using a miraculous substance called graphene.
Similar to the graphite in your pencils at home, graphene is made up of carbon atoms, and is known as a nanomaterial, meaning it is made up of tiny particles. It earns it’s miraculous status from a combination of supreme strength, flexibility, electrical conductivity. Most importantly, however, graphene is very affordable and low in cost. The scientists at Sussex mixed graphene into an emulsion with water and oil, before inserting the mix into a small tube. Slight movement of the tube changed the electrical conductance of the liquid, allowing the scientists to use it to create a prototype device. The device is so sensitive that it can detect subtle bodily movements, like breathing and pulse rates. The inspiration for the device came from a call from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for wearable sensor technologies. Worn as a high tech bracelet, or even sewn into babies’ clothing, researchers hope that the device could be used as a cheap and streamlined method of monitoring children’s vital signs in hospital. There is talk that the new technology could be influential in decreasing the incidences of sudden infant death syndrome. While this hasn’t been directly tested, careful and unobtrusive monitoring of children’s movements and breathing could be the key to reducing child mortality from the condition. Beyond babies, the technology could be advanced to aid adults with breathing problems, such as sleep apnea. Scientists have even gone so far to suggest that the graphene mix could be used in futuristic clothing for professional athletes, to aid performance. The new innovation is the first of its kind in many respects. The liquid is extremely sensitive to movement and being stretched, much more so than similar products that are currently on the market. The lead scientist on the paper, Matthew Large, has heralded the discovery as the most sensitive liquid-based device ever reported, by a significant margin. The potential applications of such a unique design are therefore huge. Baby monitors based on the new technology would be low cost, and don’t require extensive or specialist knowledge to make. Potential monitors could therefore be made all over the world, and shipped to remote locations, aiding areas where infant care is needed the most. The researchers are currently working to develop products for market in the next few years. Scientists are also hopeful that this technology could have applications beyond health, even as far as the monitoring of earth’s geological events, such as earthquakes! The sensitivity of the graphene liquid means that the smallest of vibrations or movements could be detected.