At Caltech and ETH Zurich, a team of scientists and engineers have created an artificial skin that is able to detect temperature alterations. The mechanism that helps it detect the change of temperature is akin to the method used by organs that enables a pit viper to perceive their prey.
This artificial skin could be used for grafting while operating on prosthetic limbs allowing restoration of temperature sensation in amputees.
Coming with some great properties, this artificial skin may also be used in bandages to alert physicians of increase in temperature. The sudden temperature increase shall act as an indication for any infection in wounds.
Funded by Swiss National Science Foundation, the research paper is titled "Biomimetic temperature-sensing layer for artificial skins." The research was conducted by Caltech's Chiara Daraio in collaboration with postdoctoral researcher Raffaele Di Giacomo and other team members comprising students and guest professors.
While conducting a research on fabrication of synthetic wood, Daraio developed a material that reacted to the temperature fluctuations in the laboratory. At the end of the study, it was analyzed that a long chain shaped molecule named Pectin was responsible for the temperature sensitivity.
"Pectin is widely used in the food industry as a jellifying agent; it's what you use to make jam. So it's easy to obtain and also very cheap," shared Daraio.
The researchers found this new component quite interesting and a valuable invention, so they shifted their attention to it and tried to implement it using a different mechanism in the grafting processes.
This thin film of transparent nature is made solely of water and pectin which is almost 20 micrometers thick, akin to the diameter of a strand of human hair.
The vipers basically have pit organs that aid them in perceiving the heat radiated by the warm prey. The organ starts functioning once the heat is detected and sensory nerves expand eventually. This dilation leads to the evolution of electrical impulse that triggers the senses.
This artificial layer of skin can detect 5 to 50 degree Celsius, which is quite beneficial for biomedical applications and robotics.
Pectin sensors could be used for various industrial applications like consumer electronics. Also, it can be utilized as robotic skin to supplement robot-human interaction. However, this shall be possible only when a change in the fabrication process is brought about to avoid the evaporation of water at high temperatures.
The paper on the findings will be published on Feb. 1 in the journal Science Robotics.