MILES O’BRIEN: Imagine if there were
electronics able to prevent brain seizures before they happened, or monitor the surface of a beating heart.
Problem is, such devices are a tough fit. Body tissue is soft and pliable, while conventional circuits can
be hard and brittle- well, until now. JOHN ROGERS: We’re trying to bridge that gap
from a silicon wafer type of electronics to a biological tissue-like electronics to really blur the
distinction between electronics and the body. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the
National Science Foundation, University of Illinois’ Materials Science and Engineering professor, John
Rogers, is developing elastic electronics. It’s circuitry with a real twist, able to monitor and
deliver electrical impulses into living tissue. Made of tiny, wavy silicon patterns, these circuits are
thinner than a hair, and bend and stretch with the body. JOHN ROGERS: As the skin moves and deforms,
the circuit can follow those deformations in a completely non-invasive way. MILES O’BRIEN: Rogers hopes elastic
electronics will open a door to a whole range of bio- integrated medical devices, like this. It’s what he
calls a sock, in this case, wrapped around a model of a rabbit heart. JOHN ROGERS: It’s designed to accommodate
the motion of the heart, but at the same time keep active electronics into contact with the tissues. MILES O’BRIEN: Using animal models, Rogers
has developed a version that can inject current into the heart tissue to stop arrhythmia. He also envisions
an implantable circuit that diagnoses and perhaps treats seizures by injecting current into the brain.
These bio-devices can also be mounted on the skin like temporary tattoos. They detect differences in brain
wave activity each time the subject blinks. RESEARCHER: Blink. Blink. MILES O’BRIEN: They also detect muscle movement
and heart activity. Rogers says their size could really benefit premature babies. JOHN ROGERS: These are such, such tiny
humans that this epidermal form of electronics could really be valuable in monitoring these babies without
constraining their motion or disrupting their natural, biological processes. MILES O’BRIEN: Developing technology that’s
sure to stick around. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.