February 22, 2011

Stanford researcher's new stretchable solar cells will power artificial electronic 'super skin'

(February 22, 2011)  Ultrasensitive electronic skin developed by Stanford researcher Zhenan Bao is getting even better. Now she's demonstrated that it can detect chemicals and biological molecules, in addition to sensing an incredibly light touch. And it can now be powered by a new, stretchable solar cell she's developed in her lab, opening up more applications in clothing, robots, prosthetic limbs and more.

"Super skin" is what Stanford researcher Zhenan Bao wants to create.  She's already developed a flexible sensor that is so sensitive to pressure it can feel a fly touch down.  Now she's working to add the ability to detect chemicals and sense various kinds of biological molecules.  She's also making the skin self-powering, using polymer solar cells to generate electricity.  And the new solar cells are not just flexible, but stretchable – they can be stretched up to 30 percent beyond their original length and snap back without any damage or loss of power. 

Super skin, indeed.

"With artificial skin, we can basically incorporate any function we desire," said Bao, a professor of chemical engineering. "That is why I call our skin 'super skin.' It is much more than what we think of as normal skin."

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