Flexible, stretchable, bendable circuits will make futuristic wearable devices and implantable medical sensors possible. Today, a Swiss research team revealed a big new step in that field: a super-thin circuit that can function while wrapped around a human hair or laid on a contact lens.
The team, led by Giovanni Salvatore at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, created a circuit on a parylene film just a single micrometer thick. That's about one sixtieth the thickness of a human hair. The scientists achieved this by building the circuit on a vinyl polymer base that's then dissolved away, leaving the ultra-thin, ultra-flexible circuit intact.
The resulting circuit can be draped over human hair, plastered on human skin, or pasted on a plant leaf, without cracking or losing conductivity, as show in these images from the research paper published in Nature Communications:
Applications for such technology sound positively sci-fi: the Swiss research team envisions a transparent circuit on a contact lens to sense the increased pressure in the eye that causes glaucoma. Other applications could include implanted sensors that continually monitor blood pressure in heart patients.
The limiting factor right now: everything you'd want to plug in to that circuit. Batteries, for example. Still, the idea of a circuit you wear on your eyeball makes Google Glass seem positively quaint. [Nature Communications via Smithsonian]