Dublin-based research team Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER), with the help of researchers from the University of Surrey, have developed a new rubber band that may soon become a hi-tech wearable sensor by adding graphene. The rubber band could have many uses from healthcare to fashion.

The application of the highly conductive yet ultra-thin graphene on rubber turned it from a non-conductive element to one that could be turned into a sensor. The mechanical integrity of the rubber was not harmed by the graphene and when an electrical current flows through the band; the electrical current proved to be very strongly affected if the band was stretched.

The discovery opens up a host of healthcare possibilities for the development of wearable sensors from rubber, which could be used to monitor respiration, blood pressure, joint movement and blood glucose. The research team also sees other applications of the graphene-infused rubber band sensors in the automotive industry (to develop sensitive airbags), in robotics, in medical-device development (to monitor bodily motion) and as early warning systems for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies or sleep apnea in adults.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, the project leader, strongly believes in the new rubber band’s potential. “Biosensors, which are worn on or implanted into the skin, must be made of durable, flexible and stretchable materials that respond to the motion of the wearer,” Coleman said. “By implanting graphene into rubber, a flexible natural material, we are able to completely change its properties to make it electrically conductive, to develop a completely new type of sensor.”