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Prostheses Could Benefit From Self-healable, Recyclable E-skin

Photograph of the e-skin courtesy of CU Boulder.

at the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder have developed a new type of
malleable, self-healing, and fully recyclable electronic skin that has
applications in prosthetic development, robotics, and biomedical
devices. Electronic skin, or e-skin, is a thin, translucent material
that can mimic the function and mechanical properties of human skin. The
latest e-skin has embedded sensors that measure pressure, temperature,
humidity, and air flow.

The technology has several distinctive
properties, including a novel type of polymer, known as polyimine, that
has been laced with silver nanoparticles to provide better mechanical
strength, chemical stability, and electrical conductivity, said
Jianliang Xiao, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of
Mechanical Engineering, who is leading the research effort with Wei
Zhang, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and
Biochemistry as well as a faculty member in the Materials Science and
Engineering Program.

“What is unique here is that the chemical
bonding of polyimine we use allows the e-skin to be both self-healing
and fully recyclable at room temperature,” said Xiao. “Given the
millions of tons of electronic waste generated worldwide every year, the
recyclability of our e-skin makes good economic and environmental

Another benefit of the CU Boulder e-skin is that it can be
easily conformed to curved surfaces like human or prosthetic arms and
hands by applying moderate heat and pressure to it without introducing
excessive stresses. Healing of cut or broken e-skin, including the
sensors, is done by using a mix of three commercially available
compounds in ethanol, said Zhang, and a recycling solution degrades the
polymers and separates the silver nanoparticles for reuse.

The research was published February 9 in Science Advances.

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by CU Boulder.