Scientists have developed new wearable graphene-based sensors that could allow parents to keep track of their babies' heart and breathing rates with automatic updates to their smartphones. The sensors which the researchers describe as "the most sensitive liquid-based devices to have ever been developed" could also be transformative for anyone with life-threatening conditions such as sleep apnea. Since graphene is cheap to produce, the new breakthrough should be affordable, they said. Physicists at the University of Sussex in the UK created a liquid made from an emulsion of graphene, water and oil, which conducts electricity. The team was inspired to create the new health monitor after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called for new affordable wearable health technologies for babies in situations where resources are scarce. Graphene is a two-dimensional material made from carbon atoms that is strong, flexible and conductive. When a channel or tube holding the liquid is stretched, even by a small amount, the conductivity of the liquid changes. This means that the respiration rates and pulses of people wearing the device can be tracked. Since the new liquid technology is so sensitive, it picks up very small signals when attached to the body. In order to monitor the pulses of babies at the moment, clunky sensors need to be attached to babies' tiny feet or hands, which often fall off, researchers said. The information is then relayed to a monitor by wires which can restrict the child's movement. "Using the conducting liquid emulsions we have developed, we will produce cheap, wearable sensors based on graphene. The devices will be comfortable, non-invasive and can provide intuitive diagnostics of breathing and heart rate," said Professor Alan Dalton from the University of Sussex. The researchers eventually want to developed a suit that a baby can wear, which will read-out all vital information wirelessly. "We hope to see this made available within two to four years," said Dalton. "In the laboratory we have created a sensor that has the potential to drastically improve early detection of life- threatening symptoms such as sleep apnea or cardiac arrhythmia, where constant monitoring with conventional equipment is challenging outside of the hospital environment," Matthew Large, lead researcher on the project added.
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