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  5. UW-Madison expert can discuss breakthrough in flexible electronics

UW-Madison expert can discuss breakthrough in flexible electronics

Jack Ma

Jack Ma

A new development in the field of flexible electronics could allow hospitals to monitor patient vital signs without bulky cables or uncomfortable electrodes. In a paper published in the Aug. 11 online edition of Science, a team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reports developing a new electronic “skin” that can cling to the body and detect physiological data such as heart rate or blood pressure.

The team, led by John Rogers, a U of I materials science and engineering professor, reports successfully collecting physiological information at the same quality as that collected by more cumbersome hardware.

“The electronic skin can be simply mounted onto or peeled off of natural skin in the same way as bandage tape,” writes Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of electrical and computer engineering, in the perspective article that accompanies the technical article.

Editors of Science asked Ma, a leading expert in flexible electronics, to write the perspective, which introduces and contextualizes Rogers’ work.

Ma’s team has worked to create inexpensive, flexible thin-film transistors (TFTs) such as those used in Rogers’ electronic skin. Ma holds the current world record for TFT operating speed, at 12 Gigahertz.

In 2008, Ma received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the country’s highest honor for scientists at the beginning of their research careers, and a Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Ma also is available to provide more information about the significance of Rogers' flexible electronics research, particularly the radio frequency technology that allows data to be transmitted through such skins.

For example, in 2010, Ma's own lab demonstrated that similar thin silicon devices were capable of wirelessly transmitting data. If Rogers’ skins could do the same, Ma says, that would allow medical monitoring devices to become inconspicuous and comfortable, and allow non-medical advances such as radios a person could attach to their clothing.

“The technology is no more than two or three years from wireless versions of this,” Ma says.

While Rogers’ team has demonstrated a breakthrough in wearable electronics, Ma says other applications for thin film transistors include flexible sensors, embedded signatures, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, or even computer monitors that could roll up like window shades. 

Christie Taylor