Academics at the University of Manchester believe that wearable devices made from graphene will be “cheap and easy to produce.”

In a paper published in Scientific Reports, researchers demonstrated how mobile phones and healthcare monitors made from graphene could be printed into clothing and even skin. This is because the substance is highly conductive and ultra-flexible.

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During experiments a team, led by Dr Zhirun Hu printed graphene to construct transmission lines and antennas and experimented with these in communication devices, such as mobile and Wifi connectivity.

Using a mannequin, they attached graphene-enabled antennas on each arm. The devices were able to ‘talk’ to each other, effectively creating an on-body communications system. The results proved that graphene-enabled components had the required quality and functionality for wireless wearable devices.

“This is a significant step forward – we can expect to see a truly all graphene enabled wireless wearable communications system in the near future,” explained Dr Zhirun Hu, from the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

“The potential applications for this research are huge – whether it be for health monitoring, mobile communications or applications attached to skin for monitoring or messaging. This work demonstrates that this revolutionary scientific material is bringing a real change into our daily lives.”

The researchers listed some of the example of potential communications devices.

In a hospital, a patient wears a printed graphene RFID tag on his or her arm. The tag, integrated with other 2D materials, can sense the patient’s body temperature and heartbeat and sends them back to the reader. The medical staff can monitor the patient’s conditions wirelessly, greatly simplifying the patient’s care.

In a care home, battery-free printed graphene sensors can be printed on elderly peoples’ clothes. These sensors could detect and collect elderly people’s health conditions and send them back to the monitoring access points when they are interrogated, enabling remote healthcare and improving quality of life.

“Research into graphene has thrown up significant potential applications, but to see evidence that cheap, scalable wearable communication devices are on the horizon is excellent news for graphene commercial applications,” added co-author Sir Kostya Novoselov, who with his colleague Sir Andre Geim first isolated graphene at the University in 2004.