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Flexible electronics for wearable devices

   Department of Materials

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  Prof A Song, Dr Alex Casson  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

To apply for this programme, please visit Informal enquiries are welcome, to [Email Address Removed].

ABM CDT Flexible electronics are seen as the next generation human body sensor platform. By attaching directly to the body they can provide very long term and high quality recordings, and bend, flex, and stretch with the body as it moves. They are also very discrete and socially acceptable. Sensors for longitudinal health data (e.g. temperature, activity, heart information) in out-of-the-clinic situations are a key motivator for such devices. Over the last 5 years we have been working on printed electronics for making these systems. We now have sensors for activity and heart rate, and are actively working on flexible printed sensors for sweat and other bio-fluid analysis. In general our works have been based upon printed electronics approaches, with design rules that consider scale-up compatibility from the outset.

We are now seeking to continue and to extend this work: making our current devices more robust and more physically flexible, whilst also enabling more sensing modalities. Stakeholder co-design work has highlighted cortisol sensing (a key marker of stress) as being a particular unmet that our wearable sensors could potentially address. We will seek to create highly flexible sensors, and will investigate both printing and clean room based fabrication approaches to investigate whether we can get the ‘best of both worlds’. Investigations into biodegradability (and the trade-offs with robustness and biocompatibility) are also now required to address potential e-waste issues around the increased use of flexible electronics sensors.

Main questions to be answered:

We anticipate a number of potential research avenues to be explored and prioritised during the work:

  • Investigation into printed electronic substrates for stretchability, breathability against skin, and biodegradability; whilst also having robustness to the temperature and UV light required for robust electronic component mounting. We have current substrates, but these have much potential for improvement.
  • Investigation into component mounting approaches, and isotropic and anisotropic conductive pastes and the optimal formulations and deposition mechanisms for different pastes and electronic components. We have a current mounting approach, but this has much room for improvement, particularly for recessed pin devices. We aim to mount “BGA” components onto 25 µm PET (or similar), mount on to pig skin (or similar), and take histological slices to assess the contact quality at different levels of bend and flex.
  • System design and implementation of electronics (e.g. PCB level design in Altium) and micro-fluidic channel design for designing a complete sensor device.
  • Fabrication using screen and inkjet printing for making a complete sensor device. Fabrication of novel low voltage IGZO transistors in the clean room for having flexible transistors for key functions.

The end aim is to have a complete sensor platform on a flexible substrate which can be used for a range of measurands, including small molecule detection.

University of Manchester, Department of Materials - 19 PhD Projects Available

University of Sheffield, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, 7 PhD Projects Available

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