On Kent State University’s Brain Health Research Institute Week: There are still steps to be made in wearable tech.
Bjorn Lussem, professor of physics, explores what we need to go to get there.
Björn Lüssem studied electrical engineering at the RWTH Aachen (Germany) and the University of Bath and obtained his degree as Diplom-Ingenieur in 2003.He prepared his PhD thesis at the Research Center in Jülich, Germany in the field of molecular electronics. His thesis concentrates on Scanning-Tunnelling Microscopy of pure and mixed self-assembled monolayers and has been awarded theVDE-Promotionspreis and the Günther-Leibfried-Preis.After staying at the Materials Science Laboratory of Sony in Stuttgart from 2006-2008, he joined Prof. Leo’s group at the TU Dresden, where he headed the OLED and the New Devices group. In 2014 he started as Assistant Professor at the Physics Department of Kent State University.
Organic Biosensors at the Interface of Materials Science, Electronics, and Neuroscience
Semiconductors have revolutionized our daily life and are found nearly everywhere: in our watches, phones, TVs and even LED light bulbs. Semiconductors conduct electric charge through electrons. However, the process of electrical charge is remarkably different within the human body where signals are transmitted by ionic charge through potassium, sodium or chlorine ions. Semiconductors need dry conditions to operate – that’s why you never want to drop your phone in water! But our body is approximately 60% water.
In our research we are trying to reconcile these two seemingly separate worlds of semiconductors and information processing. We study a specific class of semiconductors – mixed organic semiconductors – which can conduct ions and electrons at the same time. When used correctly, mixed organic semiconductors can be used to design highly efficient biosensors, which can sense glucose, lactic acid and various other neurotransmitters in the body.
The materials created with these semiconductors are mechanically flexible, lightweight and sometimes even stretchable – properties that can be used to create electronic technology that is so small and convenient that some researchers call it imperceptible.
This technology will allow for exciting applications beyond what is currently possible. In the future, we believe this science will lead to technology such as wearable sensors to guide one’s daily exercise, or sensors that track neurotransmitters inside the brain and allow us to study the fundamental processes of common diseases or provide clues into the how the brain works
Before these technological applications can be realized, however, there are many fundamental questions that still need to be answered: How do mixed conductors host ions and electrons? How can we process these devices on a large scale? And how durable will this technology be long-term?
Answering these questions requires fundamental investigation at the interface of materials science, electronics and the neurosciences – an intersection where researchers are working together to advance discovery.