Novel, Experimental Pencil Draws Bioelectronics To Be Placed On Skin

Using wearable devices to monitor health issues may soon be as easy as writing on paper. Researchers at the University of Missouri have developed a new pencil that could be used to draw temporary bioelectronics to be placed on human skin. This "tattoo" could make health monitoring easier and more convenient. The research is not yet developed for use, but such a device could be promising.

Commercial on-skin biomedical devices currently use complex and expensive materials, and commonly contain a tracking component with surrounding flexible material for a supportive structure, such as plastic. This new pencil aims to change the production process with a "low-cost and very simple" approach, according to Zheng Yan, PhD, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering at University Of Missouri. Yan and a team of researchers described the device in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The researchers found that adding more than 90 percent graphite to pencils could help conduct a high amount of energy from the friction caused by drawing or writing on paper. They said increasing the amount of graphite to 93 percent may provide the best results when used on skin. The pencil was tested on a commercial office copy paper on which the researchers drew a working biomedical device. Yan said people would put the drawn device on the skin using a biocompatible spray-on adhesive to keep it secure. 

The goal is to use the pencil for creating tools for home-based, personalized health care. But it could also be useful in education and remote research, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic since scientists have limited access to materials, Yan said.  "For example, if a person has a sleep issue, we could draw a biomedical device that could help monitor that person's sleep levels," he said in a press release. "Or in the classroom, a teacher could engage students by incorporating the creation of a wearable device using pencils and paper into a lesson plan. Furthermore, this low-cost, easily customizable approach could allow scientists to conduct research at home, such as during a pandemic."

The technology also offers an eco-friendly method to bring biomedical devices to people. The paper used to draw the tools can decompose within a week unlike other commercial devices made with non-biodegradable materials. 

The researchers now plan to enhance the pencil and test the technology with other biomedical components, such as electrophysiological, temperature and biochemical sensors.

University of Missouri Pencil One day, people could monitor their own health conditions by simply picking up a pencil and drawing a bioelectronic device on their skin. In a new study, University of Missouri engineers demonstrated that the simple combination of pencils and paper could be used to create devices that might be used to monitor personal health. University of Missouri