Researchers at the Tel Aviv University have developed a new temporary “electronic tattoo” that can measure the activity of muscle and nerve cells. The tattoo is made of a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin, and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that enhances the electrode’s performance. It can record a strong, steady signal for hours on end without irritating the skin.
One major application of the new electrode is the mapping of emotion by monitoring facial expressions through electric signals received from facial muscles.
Lead researcher Prof. Yael Hanein says that the electronic tattoo can revolutionize medicine,
“Researchers worldwide are trying to develop methods for mapping emotions by analyzing facial expressions, mostly via photos and smart software,” Prof. Hanein says. “But our skin electrode provides a more direct and convenient solution.”
The tattoo was first developed as an alternative to electromyography, a test that assesses the health of muscles and nerve cells. The procedure is rather unpleasant because it requires patients to lie sedentary in the lab for hours on end with a needle stuck into a muscle tissue to record its electrical activity.
“Our tattoo permits patients to carry on with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity,” says Prof. Hanein. “The idea is: stick it on and forget about it.”
Data derived from the electrodes may be used to study, for example, the alertness of drivers on the road or the muscle control in patients undergoing rehabilitation following stroke or brain injury. The possibilities are endless.
The electrode is the product of a European Research Council (ERC) project and received support from the BSMT Consortium of Israel’s Ministry of Economy.