Scientists from the Northwestern University in Illinois have developed a tiny solar-powered UV sensor that can warn you of UV exposure and can optimize dosing during treatment of skin diseases, neonatal jaundice, seasonal affective disorder and reduce risk of sunburns and skin cancer.
The new device, developed by Northwestern Medicine and Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering scientists, is thinner than a credit card and smaller than an M&M candy. It has been described as the world’s smallest wearable and virtually indestructible.
When the researchers tested the device on human study participants, it recorded multiple forms of light exposure during outdoor activities, even in the water. The batteryless device was able to monitor therapeutic UV light in clinical phototherapy booths for psoriasis and atopic dermatitis as well as blue light phototherapy for newborns with jaundice in the neonatal intensive care unit. It also demonstrated the ability to measure white light exposure for seasonal affective disorder, reports Northwestern Now.
“From the standpoint of the user, it couldn’t be easier to use – it’s always on yet never needs to be recharged,” said John Rogers, who led the group that created this device. “It weighs as much as a raindrop, has a diameter smaller than that of an M&M and the thickness of a credit card. You can mount it on your hat or glue it to your sunglasses or watch.”
It’s also rugged and waterproof. “There are no switches or interfaces to wear out, and it is completely sealed in a thin layer of transparent plastic,” Rogers said. “It interacts wirelessly with your phone. We think it will last forever.”
Rogers tried to break it, while his students dunked it in boiling water and in a simulated washing machine. Yet, the device still worked.
The researchers are especially excited about the device’s ability to measure the entire UV spectrum and accumulate total daily exposure.
“There is a critical need for technologies that can accurately measure and promote safe UV exposure at a personalized level in natural environments,” said co-senior author Dr. Steve Xu, instructor in dermatology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine dermatologist.
“We hope people with information about their UV exposure will develop healthier habits when out in the sun,” Xu said. “UV light is ubiquitous and carcinogenic. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide. Right now, people don’t know how much UV light they are actually getting. This device helps you maintain an awareness and for skin cancer survivors, could also keep their dermatologists informed.”