When a baby is born premature, it's not uncommon for them to subsequently develop neuromotor and cognitive disabilities. A new Harvard-designed sensor, however, could help doctors catch such problems earlier than ever.
Currently, in order to check for neuromotor and cognitive developmental disorders in small children, physicians measure and record their motor functions. Among other things, this can involve temporarily affixing wearable sensors to their hands. Unfortunately, though, many toddlers aren't comfortable with having such bulky devices attached to their bodies.
That's where the new sensor comes in.
It's composed mainly of a light, soft, highly-electrically-conductive liquid silicone, which is used to measure the wearer's grasp force, along with the motion of the hand and of individual fingers. Additionally, the liquid is composed of non-toxic potassium iodide (a common dietary supplement) and glycerol (a common food additive) – so there's no problem if the child puts the sensor in their mouth.
"We have developed a new type of conductive liquid that is no more dangerous than a small drop of salt water," says grad student Siyi Xu, first author of a paper on the research. "It is four times more conductive than previous biocompatible solutions, leading to cleaner, less noisy data."
It takes only about 20 minutes to produce the liquid in a lab setting, and it's stable across a wide range of temperatures and humidity levels. The university is now looking into testing the sensor on children (it's so far only been tried on adults), and plans on commercializing the technology.
The paper was recently published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. You can see the sensor in use, in the video below.
"By sticking to the top of the finger, this device gives accurate information while getting around the sensitively of the child's hand," says Assoc. Prof. Eugene Goldfield, co-author of the study. "Early diagnosis is the name of the game when it comes to treating these developmental disabilities and this wearable sensor can give us a lot of advantages not currently available."
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