Israeli temporary tattoos read emotions

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A penny for your thoughts? Store your coins. A new adhesive electronic tattoo could help reveal what people are really thinking.

Developed by Professor Yael Hanein, head of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at Tel Aviv University, the user-friendly electrode can be used to improve therapeutic restoration of damaged nerves and tissues – and could even lead to new insights on our emotional life.

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Monitoring to stick

Consisting of a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that attaches to the skin, and a nanotechnology-based conductive polymer coating that improves electrode performance, the tattoo registers a strong, consistent signal for hours without irritating the skin.

The tattoo allows users to continue their regular schedules, while monitoring their muscle activity for many hours, for medical and other purposes. “Our tattoo allows patients to continue with their daily routines, while the electrode monitors their muscle and nerve activity,” Hanein said in a statement.

Stick-On Monitoring. Courtesy of Tel Aviv University

Mapping of emotions

A major application of the new electrode, already under development, could be emotion mapping. “The ability to identify and map people’s emotions has many potential uses,” Hanein said. “Advertisers, pollsters, media professionals and others – all want to test people’s reactions to various products and situations. Today, for lack of precise scientific tools, they most often rely on necessarily subjective questionnaires. To meet this need, researchers around the world are trying to develop emotion mapping methods by analyzing facial expressions, mainly through facial photos and smart software. Our skin electrode offers a simple and convenient solution: monitoring expressions and emotions based on electrical signals received from facial muscles.

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Conducted as part of an EU project, and partly supported by the Israeli Ministry of Economy’s BSMT consortium, Hanein’s study was presented at an international workshop on nanomedicine in Tel Aviv University in June.

Nanotech Temporary Tattoos

The new skin electrode is based on a fusion of nanotechnology with a very basic and mundane product: the temporary tattoos that children love so much. “We used readily available materials and conventional industrial printing techniques to simplify and speed up the development process,” Hanein explained. “Our ‘electric tattoo’ consists of three parts: a carbon electrode, an adhesive surface that sticks temporary tattoos to the skin, and a conductive polymer coating based on nanotechnology, with a special nano-topography, which improves electrode performance. The result is an effective skin electrode that registers a strong, consistent signal for many hours, and does not irritate the skin. The user simply attaches it to the skin in the right place and forgets about it, then carries on as normal while the little “tattoo” measures and records muscle activity.

TAU arm.  Courtesy of Tel Aviv University

TAU arm. Courtesy of Tel Aviv University

Additional requests

According to Hanein, this is just the beginning. The new skin electrode has many other potential applications: a study recently initiated in collaboration with researchers from the Tel Aviv Medical Center uses it to monitor muscle activity in patients with neurodegenerative diseases; physiological data measured in specific muscles could be used in the future to indicate how alert drivers are on the road; patients in rehabilitation after a stroke or brain injury can use “tattooing” to improve muscle control; and amputees can use it to move artificial limbs with the remaining muscles.

Photos: Tel Aviv University

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