Science Matters visited Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Engineering recently to learn about the research and development of a cutting-edge device, a Nano-Tattoo, being developed by a team of students led by Dr. Woon-Hong Yeo Assistant Professor in VCU's Department of Mechanical Nuclear Engineering and the "Bio-interfaced NanoEngineering Lab. The VCU team is collaborating with several other departments in VCU's School of Engineering as well as teams located at other universities across the U.S. to develop this new technology.
What is this Nano-Tattoo and what does it do?
This human-machine interfacing device is a novel electronic system that can be easily printed on the skin to measure and use electrical signals from activity in the brain and muscles to make things move. The ultimate purpose of this particular Nano-Tattoo is to be used to make prosthetic hands, arms and legs work more effectively and enhance the users life. This ultra-thin, flexible, transparent "tattoo" is embedded with nanoscale materials and electrical circuits (the nanoscale is about 1000 times smaller than a single human hair). Check out this video of the production of one at the Virginia Microelectronics Center at VCU. You'll see how this tiny skin-like electronic device is made and you'll see how it can make a quadcopter fly and even communicate with a computer without using hands or speech.
Why is creating something like this important?
Engineers continually ask themselves - how does something work? How can I make it better? They solve problems. In this instance, the problem engineers and scientists are trying to solve is how to improve electronics that are attached to our skin to measure muscle and brain activity for medical diagnosis and treatments. Currently these devises, for example EEGs (electroencephalograms) that measure brain activity, are cumbersome and hard to wear for long periods of time. This new skin-like electronic system is small, soft, and flexible; it stretches and conforms to the complex surface of our skin and can be mounted without adhesives. Details of this Nano-Tattoo can be found in a recent research article from Dr. Yeo's group, published in Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences.
Do you love science, appreciate tough analytical challenges and want to make a better world? Then a career in Biomechanical Engineering just might be for you.
What is Biomechanical Engineering?
Biomechanical engineering is an interdisciplinary field of science that applies the rules and principles of mechanical engineering to biological systems. It combines elements of many disciplines, including biology, engineering, physics, chemistry, and mathematics to better understand how physical forces influence living organisms. A biomechanical engineer may find work in the medical, scientific, industrial or governmental sectors. It is also sometimes considered a subset of Mechanical Engineering or Biomedical Engineering.
Click here for a video about what it takes to become a Biomechanical Engineer.
What types of careers and job opportunities are there in Biomechanical/Biomedical Engineering?
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook states employment of biomedical engineers is projected to grow 27 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand will be strong because an aging population is likely to need more medical care and because of increased public awareness of biomedical engineering advances and their benefits.
What jobs are available in Virginia and the US in Biomechanical/Biomedical Engineering and Nanotechnology?
What courses are being taught in Virginia high schools and Universities?
Virginia's Career and Technical Education (CTE) Centers offer courses in Biomechanical Engineering and Biotechnology Foundations in Health and Medical Sciences
What camps and programs are available to students in Virginia?
Blast - general engineering camp at Old Dominion University (2020)
More great resources:
PBS Learning Media's STEM Career Lab: Videos and info on Biomechanical Engineering
PBS Learning Media's STEM Career Lab: Videos and info on Biomedical Engineering
Written by Debbie Mickle, Director of VPM Science Matters
Presented by VPM Science Matters
Discussion Questions by Allison Couillard
1. What are some different prefixes used in large and small scale measurements?
2. How does something at the nanoscale compare to other frequently used prefixes?
1. What types of energy transformations would be involved in using a nano-tattoo to fly a quadcopter?