Scientists come up with technology that mimics human skin

Global Business

Electronic skin, or e-skin, is a material that actually mimics the function of human skin. Now, some scientists have come up with a type of e-skin that heals itself and is also recyclable.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports from the U.S. state of Colorado.

Where would we humans be without skin? Skin covers our muscles, bones, tissues and internal organs. It helps protect us from pathogens and excessive water loss. Skin also helps us sense the world around us.

“People probably just take for granted,” said Associate Prof. Wei Zhang from the University of Colorado Boulder. “Oh, this is cold, this is hot, oh, this feels good.”

Those sensing abilities were not available to people with prosthetics, or robots for that matter. But that’s changing.

Zhang said electronic skin will basically accomplish all those functions.

Wei Zhang and Jianliang Xiao at the University of Colorado, Boulder are among a number of scientists who’ve been working on e-skin, as it’s known. Their version of this thin, translucent material, which mimics the mechanical and natural properties of natural skin, includes sensors that measure temperature, humidity and pressure.

“When you try to hold a baby,” Professor Jianliang Xiao said. “You also want to know you are not applying too much force to the baby.”

What really sets their technology apart is a substance contained within it, a so-called network polymer, whose chemistry makes the device robust but also allows it to self-heal and be fully recyclable.

Xiao said you can just use them to make a new generation of devices, leaving no waste at all.

The researchers’ findings were published recently in the journal Science Advances. This e-skin, when placed on humans, could one day monitor their health conditions. When placed on robots, it could eventually help them care for humans.

“The robot can tell, the baby has a fever,” Zhang said. “I need to get some medicine probably or I have to make a phone call.”

Sound far-fetched? It’s reminiscent of the movie “The Terminator,” whose villain’s skin reheals seconds after it’s damaged. But Zhang said what was once science fiction will soon be science fact. E-skin, he predicts, may even be found on toys in the future. He added that we’ll be seeing it in the next eight to ten years.

The scientists, who continue to refine their product, hope to commercialize it before too long.

Zhang said improving human lives is what drives him.

“What people, or the small kids, really think about, including me, is I want to be a scientist, and if one day my science can really help the world, and people really show appreciation. I mean that’s very rewarding.”

He believes it’s just matter of time before self-healing and recyclable e-skin is poised to function the way human skin does now.