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New polymers could enable better wearable devices

What's New? | April 24, 2023 | By:

MIT researchers developed a chemistry-based strategy to create organic iono-electronic polymers that “learn” and could improve electronic devices that interface directly with the human body. This illustration shows the proposed morphology of the polymer. Image: provided by the researchers.

Certain electronics that integrate with the human body—a smartwatch that samples your sweat, for instance—work by converting the ion-based signals of biological tissue into the electron-based signals used in transistors. But the materials in these devices are often designed to maximize ion uptake while sacrificing electronic performance.

To remedy this, MIT researchers developed a strategy to design these materials, called organic mixed ionic-electronic conductors (OMIECs), that brings their ionic and electronic capabilities into balance.

These optimized OMIECs can even learn and retain these signals in a way that mimics biological neurons, according to Aristide Gumyusenge, Asst. Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. “This behavior is key to next-generation biology-inspired electronics and body-machine interfaces, where our artificial components must speak the same language as the natural ones for a seamless integration,” he says.

The technique could be used “to establish a broad library of OMIECs … thus unlocking the current single-material-fits-all bottleneck” that now exists in ionic-electronic devices, Gumyusenge says.

The results of the study have been published in the “Rising Stars” series of the journal Small

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