Pressure sensors in use today are fairly capable, being sufficiently flexible to adhere to uneven surfaces like human skin. However, once they're twisted more significantly, they're unable to accurately keep track of pressure changes. Now, researchers from the University of Tokyo have come up with a much more versatile option, creating a new sensor that's thinner than its rivals, and that can continue to sense pressure even when curved over a tiny radius.

The newly-developed nanofiber sensor is able to measure pressure distribution on rounded surfaces, maintaining its accuracy even when bent over a radius as small 80 micrometers, which is just twice the width of a human hair. It features 144 pressure points and is also only 8 micrometers thick – a fraction of the 100-micrometer minimum thickness offered by sensors currently in production.

To build the device, the researchers combined carbon nanotubes, graphene and an elastic polymer to form tiny nanofibers, meauring just 300 to 700 nanometers in diameter. These were then entangled to form a thin, lightweight and transparent structure.

The researchers tested their device on an artificial blood vessel, where it was able to detect tiny changes in pressure, as well as the speed of pressure propagation. While there's some way to go before doctors might get their hands on the tech, it could have a big impact on healthcare. For example, it would allow for physical screening of breast cancer, using pressure-sensitive rubber gloves to detect tumors.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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