Wearable electronics usually trade flexibility for computing power, but engineers have created a new ultrathin device from silicon that can stick to skin like a temporary tattoo and are powerful enough to read brain signals.
"You can't change the biology so you really have to redefine the nature of electronics," said John A. Rogers, the University of Illinois engineering professor who led the development. He and his colleagues describe the skinlike electronic device in a forthcoming article of the journal Science.
Over the past several decades, most approaches to wearable electronics involved skinlike electronic platform creating points of contact, like electrodes, or focused on flexibility over computing capabilities. "It throws away essentially all of the scientific knowledge and engineering know-how that's already been built up around silicon," Rogers said.
So he kept at it, taking silicon from a half-millimeter thick wafer to a nanomembrane.
The new platform has silicon-based circuitry fabricated in a wavy structure dubbed "filamentary serpentine" that allows it to form a web of electronics. Those circuits are integrated into extremely thin rubber sheets that naturally stick to skin without the need for adhesive.