“Imagine the ability to sense the electrical properties of tissue, and then locally remove that tissue, precisely by local ablation, all via the fingertips using smart surgical gloves. Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, ultrasound imaging could be possible,” said John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The team, which also features scientists from Northwestern University and Dalian University of Technology, creates the sensors by transfer printing a preformed mesh structure onto the outer surface of a finger-tube moulded out of silicone rubber.

The researchers experimented with having the electronics on the inside of the device, in contact with wearer’s skin, and also on the outside. They believe that because the device exploits materials and fabrication techniques adopted from the established semiconductor industry, the processes can be scaled for realistic use at reasonable cost.

“Perhaps the most important result is that we are able to incorporate multifunctional, silicon semiconductor device technologies into the form of soft, three-dimensional, form-fitting skins, suitable for integration not only with the fingertips but also other parts of the body,” added Rogers.

Indeed, the team now intends to create a “skin” for integration on other parts of the body, such as the heart. In this case, a device would envelop the entire 3D surface of the heart, like a sock, to deliver various sensing and actuating functions, providing advanced surgical and diagnostic information relevant to cardiac arrhythmias.

Future challenges include creating materials and schemes to supply the device with wireless data and power.

More details are available in the journal Nanotechnology.