RMIT develop a sensor to detect when you are about to get sunburnt

A wearable stretchable patch developed by RMIT University researchers in Melbourne, could soon be used to alert you when you’ve had too much sun exposure and are about to get sunburnt.

The device uses zinc oxide, a key ingredient in sunscreen, to detect UV radiation.  The scientists have transferred the zinc oxide onto a silicon rubber substrate (used in contact lenses) in layers to create a stretchy, unbreakable electric sensor patch that is less than one millimetre thick.

PhD researcher Philipp Gutruf explained: "Most of the stretchable electronics that you see, they're basically something hard encapsulated in a rubbery form, RMIT's sensor, on the other hand, is completely flexible and transparent, so it could easily be added to clothes, wrist bands or any wearables.”

The research has various uses; these sensors are able to monitor levels of exposure to UV radiation, but also to harmful gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen dioxide. The sensors flexibility means that it could be attached to work and safety gear or made into a wristband. Project leader Dr Madhu Bhaskaran explained: “The ability to monitor such gases in production facilities and coal-fired power stations gives vital early warning of explosions, while the ability to sense nitrogen dioxide allows for a constant monitoring of pollution levels in crowded cities.”  The sensor could also be connected to your smartphone to send an alert when you have had too much exposure to the sun.

The elements of the sensor are cheap to manufacture, so Gutruf and his team are now working on adding more functionality it, with the aim of making devices that seamlessly integrate with the human body.

"Hard, rigid devices are no good," Gutruf said. "It would be a lot more elegant if you could wear your smartphone, for example. This is where the future is going."

If you are interested in conducting research at university in Australia or New Zealand, you can find out more about applying to study a PhD or research masters here. To find out more about RMIT University, read their profile here.

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