Wearable devices must be comfortable or consumers won’t wear them. Users might wear an uncomfortable device that alleviated extreme pain if there is a significant net comfort gain, but otherwise the chances of voluntary usage are slim. We’ve written about breathable, stretchable, body-conforming wearables before. We covered graphene circuits printed on fabric developed at the University of Cambridge, as well as Heddoko’s textile-embedded sensors that continuously monitor movements for athletic coaching.

Researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) created a gas-permeable, ultra-thin, stretchable electronic material that breathes. The production process requires three main steps. First, the NCSU team created a stretchable polymer film with an even distribution of tiny holes. Next, they dipped the film in a solution containing silver nanowires. Finally, the scientists heat-pressed the material, sealing the nanowires in place. The team published a paper documenting their process in the journal ACS Nano. The paper title “Gas-Permeable, Ultrathin, Stretchable Epidermal Electronics with Porous Electrodes” tells the story.

The product is only a few micrometers thick to allow optimal contact with the skin. The film combines significant electric conductivity, optical transmittance, and water-vapor permeability. By allowing sweat and organic compounds to evaporate, the material is comfortable for long-term wear, Zhu said.

In the course of the research, the NCSU team tested two prototypes. One test case consisted of skin-mountable electrophysiological sensors with potential applications for electrocardiographic (ECG) and electromyography (EMG) readings. The second prototype demonstrated the material’s potential for human-machine interfacing with a wearable sleeve that has integrated porous electrodes; it was used as a controller to play the computer game Tetris.

As telehealth and remote continuous monitoring develop, comfortable materials such as the NCSU film that can to hold wearable sensors will be a crucial component for wearable devices.