A face mask can protect us from COVID and other respiratory diseases. Now, it could also be used as a non-invasive device to check the health of our body as has been successfully demonstrated by researchers at the BITS-Pilani Hyderabad campus’ Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS), Microfluids and Nanoelectronics (MMNE) Lab.

The team including research scholar P. Ramya Priya, Professor Sanket Goel and Associate Professor Satish Kumar Dubey designed and developed a ‘Kirigami’ based stretchable, flexible Laser induced Graphene (LIG) a 3-D carbon nanomaterial, for real-time attachments with surgical masks.

LIG is a widely used material for monitoring vital physiological signs such as breath rate (BR) or respiratory rate (RR), body temperature, pulse rate, and blood oxygen saturation. Monitoring breath rate is considered as a parameter to detect diseases like cardiac arrest, asthma, pneumonia, pulmonary edema, and of course, COVID-19.

Researchers used the sensor attached to a gas mask to analyze the breath pattern of the subject seated on a chair by validating the change in resistance during inhalation and exhalation. The rate of breathing generally varies based on age until and unless the person is diseased. Fitness of a person can be determined by Breath Index - measuring RR and DR, said Prof. Goel.

The product is customizable and can be used to develop various sizes and patterns of ‘Kirigami’ (Japanese art of paper cutting giving a 3D element) based structures for patients with varying age groups and demographics. The sensor can be placed over the mouth and nose without causing any irritation while ensuring stable working.

Applications in various scenarios have been carried out demonstrating promising potential in healthcare, disease diagnosis, e-skin, and so on with the detection capacity being less than one second. The sensor has potential in wearable/flexible healthcare technology owing to its high sensitivity, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. And, could help in early detection of illnesses like heart disease, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), sleep apnea syndrome (SAS), and lung cancer saving many lives, he explained.

Prof. Goel said the sensor could be used in a wide range of settings, such as fabric masks, surgical masks, oxygen masks, etc., making it suitable for evaluating symptoms of COVID-19 and other respiratory ailments. The project was done under the aegis of Department of Science & Technology- Biomedical Device and Technology Development (BDTD) and has been accepted for publication in ‘IEEE Sensors Journal.’

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