June R&D Round Up

E-mail Melanie Martella

This month, bendy memory elements and a detector to ensure medical personnel wash their hands.

A Flexible Memristor
Aiding the development of flexible electronics, researchers at NIST have managed to create a flexible memory device. The memristor–a device that changes its resistance based on the amount of current running through it and which retains that resistance even when the current is removed–was created on polymer sheets by depositing a sol gel thin film of titanium dioxide and then applying electrical contacts when the material had set. The resulting device maintains its memory when power is lost, still works after being flexed 4000 times, and operates on <10 V. As quoted in "Memory with a Twist: NIST Develops a Flexible Memristor", "We wanted to make a flexible memory component that would advance the development and metrology of flexible electronics, while being economical enough for widespread use," says NIST researcher Nadine Gergel-Hackett. "Because the active component of our device can be fabricated from a liquid, there is the potential that in the future we can print the entire memory device as simply and inexpensively as we now print a slide on an overhead transparency.""

Sniffing for Bugs
A quick quiz: What's the single most effective thing you can do to lessen your chances of getting sick? Wash your hands. (The recent advent of A/H1N1 AKA swine flu has hopefully taught us at least this much.) While this is definitely true for us (the great unwashed), it's emphatically true for medical personnel who are dealing with an increasing number of drug-resistant bacteria. Unfortunately, doctors and nurses are not as scrupulous about washing their hands as they need to be to keep these superbugs in check.

Dr. Lennox Archibald of Florida University is testing out a new device that may help them keep their hands clean(er). HyGreen technology uses a wall-mounted sensor system that "sniffs" your hands to see if it detects an acceptable concentration of sanitizer chemicals. If this is the case, the system communicates with your wireless badge, updating it, and a green light shows that you're good to go. Then, when you approach a patient's bed another monitor checks with your badge to see whether the last noted handwashing was sufficiently recent. If yes, you get a green light. If no, you get a red light and your badge vibrates as a gentle reminder. (You can read more in the article "Breathalyser for the hands' fights hospital superbugs: Wireless warning for unwashed plague-laden medics", courtesy of The Register.

The "hand breathalyser" bit is a wall-mounted sensor system mounted in the hospital washrooms. After washing their hands, medics put them into the sensor. Provided that a suitable level of sanitiser chemicals are detected, the badge is wirelessly updated and a green light illuminates on the sensor.

Then, when the doctor or nurse approaches a patient's bed, the monitor gear interrogates their badge. If the badge's last logged handwash is sufficiently recent, the monitor flashes green. If not, a red light comes on and the badge itself gives "a gentle 'reminder' vibration". And then I presume that the person with the vibrating badge whisks him or herself over to a sink or a container of hand sanitizer.

Cool Technology Ahead
Next week I'll be off at Sensors Expo so if you're attending, please say hi! I'll be walking around the show floor, scoping out new products and neat technologies in addition to handing out the annual Best of Sensors Expo Awards. Look for a list of this year's winners next Friday!

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