Under the Skin

Stanford chemical engineers have created a synthetic skin that can stretch like rubber, carry electricity, and self-heal. They have chemically developed an entirely new class of synthetic polymers in order to create a highly functional replication of human skin.

“Our skin is constantly helping us interact with the world. How do we know how tightly to hold objects so that they do not slip out of our hands; or whether a surface is too hot to touch; or even how to enjoy our comfortable pajamas? Our skin helps us determine sensations such as temperature, texture, vibration, and pressure. Also, it is constantly regenerating, protecting our internal organs from the outside environment, and automatically healing wounds. Besides helping us perform necessary tasks every day, skin provides us feedback that enriches our lives.

“We use our skin as an inspiration to make new types of electronics that are ultrathin, stretchable, healable, and biodegradable, and yet have electronic properties. Our goal is to change how we interact with electronics to ultimately improve human health. For example, we are developing seamless health monitoring electronics that provide real-time information on our vitals that guide disease diagnosis and ultimately serve as individualized treatment for the patient. Moreover, these electronics are critical for imparting the sense of touch in prosthetics and improving the quality of advanced robotics. By making these electronics biodegradable, not only are we consciously minimizing impact on the environment, we can begin to explore new applications of temporary electronics inside the body and in the environment (e.g. agriculture, forestry).

“In order to achieve these goals, we must use chemistry to create new materials. We focus on making polymers, otherwise known as plastics, electronically conducting and functional like skin. Understanding the molecular design rules are important for generating a material that has multiple properties that aren’t typically found together. We construct polymers with both covalent and dynamic bonds as well as encode instructions for self-assembly into desired architectures. There is a large chemical and physical landscape to design new polymeric materials for new types of electronics. We are exploring this exciting field and anticipate our findings will contribute to future advanced electronics.” – Bao lab

Learn more at Bao Research Group