The evaporation of sweat on paper pads could be used for fluid transport in wearables over long periods of time. (Credit: Orlin D. Velev/coauthors, NC State University)

Researchers have constructed a paper-based device as a model of wearables that can collect, transport, and analyze sweat in next-generation wearable technology. Using a process known as capillary action, akin to water transport in plants, the device uses evaporation to wick fluid that mimics the features of human sweat to a sensor for up to 10 days or longer.

The goal is to use the properties of paper to point a way forward for more affordable, longer-term devices. Paper microfluidic devices could also be used as wearable patches to assess the course of certain diseases or how well patients adhere to drug regimens.

Driven by the liquid wicking through paper, the device does not require external power. Its low cost also poses uses for inexpensive medical testing in under-resourced patient populations who struggle to have access to such testing. Such skin patch assays could remove the need to take blood samples.

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