Marine Skin could make for kinder, gentler tagging of sea life
If you don't like seeing sea creatures getting saddled with cumbersome, uncomfortable-looking data-tracking devices, then you might like Marine Skin. While it still allows scientists to gather important data, it's also thin, light, flexible, stretchable and streamlined.
The Marine Skin patch was designed by a team led by Prof. Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).
Powered by a coin cell battery that should be good for up to a year of use, it's made of stretchable non-toxic/non-irritating silicone elastomers, with embedded flexible electronic components including a memory chip and environmental sensors. In its current form, those sensors measure depth, water temperature and salinity, although other sensors could be added in the future, including ones that monitor the physiological state of the animal.
Basically, the idea is that scientists would capture an animal that they wanted to track, use an adhesive to bond the patch to that creature's skin, and then release them. When the animal was subsequently recaptured some time later, the Marine Skin would be removed, and its data would be uploaded to a smartphone via Bluetooth. Down the road, it is hoped that the patch will be able to transmit its data through the water.
"The adhesive we use is biocompatible," we're told by Caltech researcher Joanna Nasser, who was part of Hussain's team when she was a KAUST PhD student. "It is robust enough to stay attached throughout the months of experiments, and then when we want to remove the tag to do wireless data transmission, we simply toggle it a bit and start peeling it slowly like any medical adhesive … Other kinds of adhesives we came across can also be simply removed by soaking the area with a safe solution that dissolves that adhesive layer."
The technology has already been successfully tested on the shell of a Portunus pelagicus swimming crab, and the scientists are now planning on experimenting with dolphins and whale sharks.
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal NPJ Flexible Electronics.