With the use of semiconductor devices, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University and Dalian University of Technology, hope to mimic and recreate intricate properties of fingertips in order to develop advanced surgical gloves for use in medical procedures.

Researchers anticipate the device will be able to respond with high accuracy to stress and strains associated with touch and finger movement. It would be available for procedures such as local ablations and ultrasound scans.

The study co-author professor John Rogers said, "Imagine the ability to sense the electrical properties of tissue, and then locally remove that tissue, precisely by local ablation, all via the fingertips using smart surgical gloves. Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, ultrasound imaging could be possible."

Gloves will be designed with electrotactile stimulation devices for use on surgeons' fingertips, using ultrathin, stretchable, silicon-based electronics and soft sensors that can be attached onto an artificial 'skin' and fitted to surgeons fingertips. They [researchers] believe this new technology may open up opportunities for surgical robots to interact, in a gentle contacting mode with their surrounds through touching.

The glove's artificial skin is made up of electric circuit, where patterns of gold conductive lines and ultrathin sheets of silicon are integrated on to a flexible polymer called polyimide. The sheet is then imprinted into open mesh geometry and transferred to a thin sheet of silicon rubber formed into the exact shape of a finger. The finger cuff was specifically designed to able to quantify the level of stresses and strains at the fingertip, through the change in capacitance, or the ability to store electrical charge of pairs of microelectrodes in the circuit. Applied force decreases the spacing in the skin which ultimately increases capacitance. The region of the fingertips could also be fitted with devices that will measure motion, temperature with small-scale heaters and actuators for ablation and other related procedures.

Rogers and his team have experimented with devices both inside the glove and outside.

"Perhaps the most important result is that we are able to incorporate multifunctional, silicon semiconductor device technologies into the form of soft, three-dimensional, form-fitting skins, suitable for integration not only with the fingertips but also other parts of the body," Rogers said.

Presently researchers are now looking to create artificial skin integration for other body parts such as the heart. Other challenges also involved producing material and schemes that will provide for the device to be wireless data and power.

The study was published in the journal Nanotechnology.