Washable fabric measures the electrical activity of the muscles

Researchers at the University of Utah have developed a wearable fabric that can act as a biosensor and measure the electrical activity of muscles. The technology could be useful for physical rehabilitation as it allows clinicians and physical therapists to monitor patient progress.

The tissue contains a network of silver flakes and gold nanoparticles, which ensure conductivity and enable electrical signals to be measured with high accuracy using a portable electromyography device (EMG).

Physical rehabilitation is a cornerstone of recovery from a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, but getting hard EMG data on muscle activity usually requires putting wires and bandages on the skin. These patches can be inconvenient and expensive, the wires inconvenient, and such systems only provide data from small areas of the body at a time.

Imagine if our clothing could take such measurements instead. Granted, such clothing should be in contact with the skin and therefore be skin-tight, but many pieces of clothing that people use for training or rehabilitation would already fit this description. This latest technology brings such clothing a little closer to reality.

“This new method can enable clinicians to more precisely capture a muscle’s long-term electrical signals,” said Huanan Zhang, a researcher involved in the study, in an announcement from the University of Utah. “And we can better understand a patient’s progress and thus their therapeutic results over time.”

The system consists of an ordinary fabric (a cotton-polyester mixture) onto which the researchers apply silver flakes using a screen printing process. The flakes are applied to areas of clothing that are intended to touch the muscles being assessed. However, since silver can be toxic and irritate the skin, the researchers coated the silver with a layer of gold nanoparticles using an electrochemical deposition method.

The gold helps improve the biocompatibility of the material and also improves the electrical signal that can be recorded. “The silver layer provides basic conductivity, but the gold over it improves signal and biocompatibility, and helps reduce the cost of making devices from pure gold,” said Zhang.

The material was found to be very sturdy, and the University of Utah researchers report that they put the clothes through 15 washes and still retained their ability to measure electrical muscle activity. The team hopes to update the system in the future and allow integration with a smartwatch or smartphone for a convenient way to view data derived from clothing.

Study on APL materials: biostable and biocompatible electronic textile based on gold and silver nanocomposites for portable electromyographic biosensors

Via: University of Utah

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