Monitoring patients using graphene

A sensing element of a prototype of the monitor device (flexible pipe filled with graphene emulsion) developed by University of Sussex physicists.

New wearable technology designed by physicists at the University of Sussex in the UK allows sick babies in remote parts of the world to be monitored.

Using the technology, parents at home can keep track of their new babies’ heart and breathing rates with automatic updates to their smart phones, using ‘fitness tracker’-style technology that is built into baby sleep suits.

The sensors are the most sensitive liquid-based devices to have ever been developed and could also be used to assist anyone with life threatening conditions such as sleep apnoea. The device comprises a flexible pipe filled with graphene emulsion and, because graphene is cheap to produce, it is expected to be affordable.

The graphene emulsion conducts electricity and, when the tube holding the liquid is stretched, the conductivity of the liquid changes, enabling the respiration rates and pulses of people wearing the device can be tracked.

“Using the conducting liquid emulsions we have developed, we will produce cheap, wearable sensors based on graphene. The devices will be comfortable, non-invasive and can provide intuitive diagnostics of breathing and heart rate,” said Professor Alan Dalton, from the school of mathematics and physical sciences at the University. “We will eventually have a suit that the baby can wear which will read-out all vital information wirelessly. We hope to see this made available within two to four years.”

The lead researcher on the project, Dr Matthew Large, has an interesting analogy for the new development: "What we've done is similar to how you might make a salad dressing; by shaking together water and oil, you make tiny droplets of one liquid floating in the other because the two don't mix,” he explains. “Normally, the droplets would all collect together, and the liquids separate over time, like the droplets in a lava lamp. We've resolved this by putting graphene in. The graphene, which is an atom thick, sits at the surface of the droplets and stops them from coalescing.”