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University Consortium to Research Nanotech Health Monitors

Veena Misra (North Carolina State Univ.)

Veena Misra (North Carolina State Univ.)

North Carolina State University in Raleigh will lead a group of universities in the U.S., Australia, and Asia to develop self-powered health monitoring sensors and devices. Some 30 industry partners are expected to join the five-year, $18.5 million consortium, known as the Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST), and funded by National Science Foundation.

The project aims at creating health monitoring sensors and devices based on nanotechnology and worn by patients. The devices would take advantage of materials structured in nanoscale — 1 nanometer equals 1 billionth of a meter — that could be made small enough for attachment to the body where it can monitor specific bodily functions, such as a cap fitted over a tooth or a wrist band.

The small size of the devices would also mean they would need limited amounts of power, and could capture energy from the person being monitored, in the form of body heat or the motion of the body. Veena Misra (pictured right), the center’s director and professor of engineering at NC State says, “What’s unique about our technologies is the fact that they are powered by the human body, so they don’t require battery charging.”

Miniature devices constantly monitoring health functions, says NC State, can improve the way doctors, patients and researchers gather and interpret important health data. Continuous readings of heart and respiration rates, as well as data on exposure to pollutants such as ozone and carbon monoxide, can help people with chronic diseases manage their conditions, and warn healthy people of potential disease-causing situations. Over time, the accumulated data can also help policy makers more quickly identify sources of problems affecting public health.

At NC State, researchers are expected to develop thermoelectric materials that capture body heat and nanoscale sensors that gather health data from the body such as heart rates, oxygen levels, and respiration data. The research teams also plan to study methods to package the technologies into wearable devices.

Other members of the consortium include Penn State University, University of Virginia, Florida International University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and University of Adelaide in Australia.

In the following video, Misra tells more about the ASSIST project.

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