Electronic Skin: Sustainable Wearable Optoelectronics

As the environmental toll of plastic microparticles and nanoparticles has grown ever more apparent, the possible impact of plastic films in optoelectronic devices has started to raise concerns. A research team now offers one possible answer: Make the films out of fish scales.

The team zeroed in on the transparent plastic films used in a particular type of optoelectronic gadget: flexible alternating-current electroluminescent (ACEL) devices, which involve integrating and wiring up luminescent materials atop thin, bendable transparent substrates, have advanced to the point where they sport uniform luminescence, good power handling and efficiency, and low heat generation. That makes them particularly attractive for wearable technology – electronic skin.

The team focused on a different material: gelatin from fish scales. The material sports some potentially good optoelectronic qualities. Available in abundance, the scale gelatin is biodegradable, which suggests that, once discarded, it would eventually fade back into the environmental background. There are single-use, “electronic skin”-type applications of this technology, such as glowing temporary tatoos, or single-use filmy stopwatches that runners could slap onto their skin before a race and remove and toss afterward.

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