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A new era of sensors for humans and robots – thanks to electrospinning and dopamine

A new era of sensors for humans and robots – thanks to electrospinning and dopamine

Researchers at Japan's Shinshu University have developed a cost-effective piezoelectric composite material made of electrospun PVDF nanofibers and dopamine. Sensors made from this are more flexible, stronger and more stable than traditional sensors. They promise further advances in monitoring people and robots.

Flexible and robust sensors are becoming increasingly important for people and robots.

Photo: Panther Media/Andrew Lozovi

The world is rapidly moving towards an era of increasing automation and connectivity using technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. Sensors are a central interface between people, machines, and the environment.

However, traditional silicon sensors are reaching their limits as robots become increasingly mobile. The same applies to requirements for portable electronic devices, which are integrated into wearable devices, for example. Therefore, more comfortable, more versatile and more sensitive flexible sensors have become the focus of research. Piezoelectric sensors, which convert mechanical voltages into electrical signals, play an important role here.

Electrospinning as a key to robust sensors

A team of researchers from Shinshu University in Japan took on the challenge of improving the design of flexible piezoelectric sensors using electrospinning. Their current study, published in Nature Communications, describes the step-by-step fabrication of a 2D nanofiber membrane.

First, the researchers wove a stable network of PVDF nanofibers (PVDF = polyvinylidene fluoride) with diameters of 200 nanometers (nm) as a sensing base. Ultrafine PVDF fibers with diameters of less than 35 nanometers are woven on top, which spontaneously interlock between the gaps in the underlying mesh and create a special 2D topology.

Improve crystal orientation and boost dopamine

Experiments, simulations, and analyzes showed that the resulting PVDF composite network has improved beta crystal orientation. This polar phase is responsible for the piezoelectric effect in PVDF, making the sensors significantly more robust.

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