U of T Engineering researchers have developed a super-stretchy, transparent and self-powering sensor that records the complex sensations of human skin.

Dubbed artificial ionic skin — or AISkin for short — the researchers believe the innovative properties of AISkin could lead to future advancements in wearable electronics, personal health care and robotics.

“Since it’s hydrogel, it’s inexpensive and biocompatible — you can put it on the skin without any toxic effects. It’s also very adhesive, and it doesn’t fall off, so there are so many avenues for this material,” Professor Xinyu Liu (MIE), whose lab is focused on the emerging areas of ionic skin and soft robotics.

The adhesive AISkin is made of two oppositely charged sheets of stretchable substances known as hydrogels. By overlaying negative and positive ions, the researchers create what they call a “sensing junction” on the gel’s surface.

When the AISkin is subjected to strain, humidity or changes in temperature, it generates  controlled ion movements across the sensing junction, which can be measured as electrical signals such as voltage or current.

“If you look at human skin, how we sense heat or pressure, our neural cells transmit information through ions — it’s really not so different from our artificial skin,” says Liu.

AISkin is also uniquely tough and stretchable. “Our human skin can stretch about 50 per cent, but our AISkin can stretch up to 400 per cent of its length without breaking,” says Binbin Ying (MIE), a visiting PhD candidate from McGill University who’s leading the project in Liu’s lab. The researchers recently published their findings in Materials Horizons.

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