Inexpensive, flexible and wireless graphene communication devices such as mobile phones and healthcare monitors can be directly printed into clothing and even onto skin, University of Manchester academics say.

Researchers led by Dr. Zhirun Hu, senior lecturer in the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, printed graphene to construct transmission lines and antennas. They experimented with these in communication devices to test mobile and Wifi connectivity.

Using a mannequin, they attached graphene-enabled antennas to each arm. The devices were able to "talk" to each other, effectively creating an on-body communications system.

Graphene-enabled components have the required quality and functionality for wireless wearable devices. Image credit: University of Manchester.Graphene-enabled components have the required quality and functionality for wireless wearable devices. Image credit: University of Manchester.According to the researchers, the results show that graphene-enabled components have the required quality and functionality for use with wireless wearable devices.

“This is a significant step forward—we can expect to see a truly all-graphene-enabled wireless wearable communications system in the near future," says Hu.

According to the researchers, the materials currently being tested in wearable devices generally are either too expensive, such as silver nanoparticles, or are not adequately conductive, such as polymers. Graphene, they say, is a more logical fit owing to its thinness, strength and conductivity. Additionally, graphene-conductive ink can be mass produced and printed onto various materials, including clothing and paper.

Hu and his team say their research could pave the way for smart, battery-free healthcare and fitness monitoring, phones, internet-ready devices and chargers to be incorporated into clothing and "smart skin" applications. These could include printed graphene sensors integrated with other "2D" materials and attached to a patient’s skin to monitor temperature and moisture levels, among other things.

Specific application examples include:

  • In a hospital, a patient could wear a printed graphene RFID tag on his or her arm. The tag, integrated with other 2D materials, would sense the patient’s body temperature and heartbeat and send those data to a reader. Medical personnel could monitor the patient’s conditions wirelessly.
  • In an elderly care facility, battery-free printed graphene sensors could be printed on peoples' clothes. The sensors could detect and collect health data, enabling remote care and possibly improving quality of life.
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