3D printing of tiny, transparent conducting fibers could be used to make devices that can smell and hear. (Credit: University of Cambridge)

Researchers have used 3D printing to make electronic fibers, each 100 times thinner than a human hair, to create non-contact, wearable, portable respiratory sensors. The low-cost sensors are highly sensitive and can be attached to a mobile phone to collect breath pattern information, sound, and images at the same time.

The fiber sensor was used to test the amount of breath moisture leaked through a face covering for respiratory conditions such as normal breathing, rapid breathing, and simulated coughing. While the fiber sensor has not been designed to detect viral particles, since scientific evidence increasingly points to the fact that viral particles such as coronavirus can be transmitted through respiratory droplets and aerosols, measuring the amount and direction of breath moisture that leaks through different types of face coverings could act an indicator in the protection weak points.

The 3D printed the composite fibers are made from silver and/or semiconducting polymers. This fiber printing technique creates a core-shell fiber structure, with a high-purity conducting fiber core wrapped by a thin protective polymer sheath.

The team is looking to develop this fiber-printing technique for a number of multi-functional sensors, which could potentially detect more breath species for mobile health monitoring, or for biomachine interface applications.

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