Artificial limbs have experience tremendous evolution in their long history. Throughout history, we’ve gone from the peg leg of the Dark Ages to technologically advanced modern day prosthesis that mimic the function of a natural limb. However, most prosthesis still lack a sense of touch.

Zhenan Bao, past ECS member and chemical engineer at Stanford University, is at the forefront of the research looking to change that.

(MORE: Read Bao’s past meeting abstracts in the ECS Digital Library for free.)

Recently on NPR’s All Things Considered, Bao described her work in developing a plastic artificial skin that can essentially do all the things organic skin can do, including sensing and self-healing.


The self-healing plastic Bao uses mimics the electrical properties of silicon and contains a nano-scale pressure sensor. The sensor is then connected to electrical circuits that connect to the brain, transmitting the pressure to the brain to analyze as feeling.

Additionally, the skin is set to be powered by polymers that can turn light into electricity.

While there is still much work to be done, Bao and her colleagues believe that this product could help people who have lost their limbs regain their sense of touch.

New Device to Capture Bio-Data

An interdisciplinary team from multiple institutions in South Korea has recently developed a novel stretchable memory device that can be applied to the skin and used to monitor heart rate, which they believe outpaces current biosensor technology in this field.

With bio-data capturing devices on the rise in popular culture, researchers are working to increase efficiency and stability in these devices. The main problem with the current technologies is that the devices do not sit close enough to the skin. To combat this issues, the researchers have developed a new array that can be applied directly to the skin and can withstand stretching.

This from TechXplore:

The memory array is nonvolatile and made from fully multiplexed silicon and nanocrystal floating gates. The resulting device architecture built by the team is approximately the size of a human thumb and consists of two main parts, an array of ECG electrodes that are used for reading the heart rate, and the memory array—the two are connected together by a bit of electronics that also serve as amplifiers. The result is a patch-like device that is able to be stretched because the membrane material between each of the tiny squares circuits that make up both of the arrays, is flexible.

Read the full article.

A team lead by Bradley Bundy, chemical engineering associate professor, is paving the way for new life-saving vaccine technology.Image: Mark A. Philbrick

A team lead by Brad Bundy, chemical engineering associate professor, is paving the way for new life-saving vaccine technology.
Image: Mark A. Philbrick

When viruses emerge—spreading in a rapid and extensive way—researchers must scramble to create life-saving vaccines. At Brigham Young University, researchers are working to speed up that process.

A team of chemical engineers has devised a way to create machinery for vaccine production en masse, freeze drying the produced vaccines and stockpiling them for future use. This development could aid in relief efforts when new viruses hit populations, allowing researchers to rapidly produce vaccines.

“You could just pull it off the shelf and make it,” says Brad Bundy, senior author of the study. “We could make the vaccine and be ready for distribution in a day.”

This from Brigham Young University:

Bundy’s idea is a new angle on the emerging method of ‘cell-free protein synthesis,’ a process that combines DNA to make proteins needed for drugs (instead of growing protein in a cell). His lab is creating a system where the majority of the work is done beforehand so vaccine kits can be ready to go and be activated at the drop of a dime.

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Ingestible Sensor to Improved Diagnostics

Researchers from MIT have unveiled new opportunities in diagnostics through the development of an ingestible sensor with the ability to continuously monitor vital signs. The device, which measures heart rate and breathing from within the gastrointestinal track, has the potential to offer beneficial assessment of trauma patients, soldiers in battle, and those with chronic illness.


“Through characterization of the acoustic wave, recorded from different parts of the GI tract, we found that we could measure both heart rate and respiratory rate with good accuracy,” says Giovanni Traverso, one of the lead authors of the study.

The development of pulse sensors such as this are beginning to outpace the traditional stethoscope. However, the pulse sensors that currently exist wrest on the patient’s skin, which is problematic for those with skin sensitivity such as burn victims.

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There are more than 250 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads. From these vehicles, roughly 135 billion gallons of gasoline are consumed each year in the United States. In fact, 28 percent of energy used in the country is in the transportation sector.

While many may think that the majority of this consumption would come from planes or trains, personal cars and trucks actually consume 60 percent of all energy used here. Unfortunately, most of that energy is lost to heat and other inefficiencies within the vehicles, leaving only about 10 to 16 percent of a car’s fuel being used to actually drive and overcome road resistance.

However, the researchers at Virginia Tech may have a partial solution to this problem: harvesting energy from a car’s suspension.

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The Future of Superconductors

This emerging technology may lead to a theory to guide future engineers.Image: Futurity/Christian Benke

This emerging technology may lead to a theory to guide future engineers.
Image: Futurity/Christian Benke

Researchers from Cornell University are focusing their efforts on developing superconductors that can carry large energy currents, thereby expanding the possible benefits that can be produced by high-temperature superconductors.

In order to coax the superconductors to carry these large currents, researchers have previously bombarded materials with high-energy ion beams. This approach increased the current density carried, but still left the question of what is actually happening in this reaction.

Thanks to the technology of the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), the researchers can now understand what is happening at the atomic level. (German physicist, Gerd Binnig, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986 for the invention of the scanning tunneling microscope He gave the ECS Lecture at the 203rd ECS Meeting in Paris, France.)

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Catalysts Move Away from Platinum

The new catalyst combines platinum and palladium, resulting in high efficiency levels and lower cost.Image: Mavrikakis group, UW-Madison

The new catalyst combines platinum and palladium, resulting in high efficiency levels and lower cost.
Image: Mavrikakis group, UW-Madison

In recent years, platinum has been the leading material in the energy industry. However, platinum is both expensive and scarce.

In order to boost alternative energy solutions, researchers have been searching for a substitute for platinum that will allow for cheaper and equally efficient energy technology.

In order to do this, a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Georgia Institute of Technology are focusing on a new catalyst that combines the more expensive platinum with the less expensive palladium.

This from University of Wisconsin-Madison:

This not only reduces the need for platinum but actually proves significantly more catalytically active than pure platinum in the oxygen reduction reaction, a chemical process key to fuel cell energy applications. The palladium-platinum combination also proves more durable, compounding the advantage of getting more reactivity with less material. Just as importantly, the paper offers a way forward for chemical engineers to design still more new catalysts for a broad range of applications by fine-tuning materials on the atomic scale.

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Electrochemistry Tackles Air Quality

Researchers from Cambridge University have developed low-cost pollution detectors to help combat the world’s largest environmental health risk.

“To work out the factors we should be worried about, and how we can intervene, we need to rethink how we measure what’s going on,” said atmospheric scientists Professor Rod Jones.

While pollution detectors do exist, their network is currently limited due to the high cost of the devices. Jones and his team have set out to develop a small, low-cost pollution detector that is sensitive enough to track air changes and quality on a street-by-street basis.

The team based their work on an electrochemical sensor that is industrially safe and can detect toxins at the parts-per-billion level.

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One Step Closer to Bionic Brain

New research shows that we’re one step closer to being able to replicate the human brain outside of the body, which could lead to life-altering research into common conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Project leader and ECS published author Sharath Sriram and his group have successfully engineered an electronic long-term memory cell, which mimics the way the human brain processes information.

“This is the closest we have come to creating a brain-like system with memory that learns and stores analog information and is quick at retrieving this stored information,” Sharath said.

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Nanoporous gold features high effective surface area, tunable pore size, and high electrical conductivity and compatibility with traditional fabrication techniques.Image: Ryan Chen/LLNL

Nanoporous gold features high effective surface area, tunable pore size, and high electrical conductivity and compatibility with traditional fabrication techniques.
Image: Ryan Chen/LLNL

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of California, Davis have recently published a paper showing that covering an implantable neural electrode with nanoporus gold could potentially eliminate the risk of scar tissue forming over the electrode’s surface.

Two former ECS member, Erkin Seker and Juergen Biener, were among the researchers involved with this development.

This from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory:

The team demonstrated that the nanostructure of nanoporous gold achieves close physical coupling of neurons by maintaining a high neuron-to-astrocyte surface coverage ratio. Close physical coupling between neurons and the electrode plays a crucial role in recording fidelity of neural electrical activity.

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