In a positive turn of events, scientists have developed artificial skin for burn victims, which may enable them to not only feel but also lend human ‘superpowers’ to detect sound waves and magnetic fields.
We often take our skin’s ability to perceive pressure, heat, cold or vibrations for granted without realizing its importance when it comes to safety. Burn victims with prosthetic limbs and others who have lost skin sensitivity, end up unintentionally hurting themselves becomes of the insensitivity.
Seeing this as a problem, researchers from the University of Connecticut in the US felt the need to create a sensor that could mimic the sensing properties of skin. Such a sensor would need to be able to detect pressure, temperature, and vibration. However, the artificial skin could do other things too, researchers said.
"It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviours," Islam Mosa from the University of Connecticut.
A silicone sensor tube wrapped in copper wire was created and was filled with a special fluid made of tiny particles of iron oxide just one billionth of a meter long, called nanoparticles
The nanoparticles rub around the inside of the silicone tube and create an electric current. The copper wire surrounding the silicone tube picks up the current as a signal.
When this tube is bumped by something experiencing pressure, the nanoparticles move and the electric signal changes. Sound waves also create waves in the nanoparticle fluid and the electric signal changes in a different way than when the tube is bumped.
The researchers found that magnetic fields alter the signal too, in a way distinct from pressure or sound waves.
The sensor changes the electric current even when a person moves around while carrying it, which is when the team figured out that they could distinguish between the electrical signals caused by walking, running, jumping, and swimming.
"The inspiration was to make something durable that would last for a very long time, and could detect multiple hazards," Mosa said.
The team is yet to find if the sensor responds correctly to heat and cold, but they suspect it will work for those as well. The next step is to make the sensor in a flat configuration, more like skin, and see if it still works.