The National Science Foundation (NSF) has partnered with four US universities on a national nanotechnology research effort to create self-powered devices to help people monitor their health and better understand how their environment affects it.

The NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) includes the University of Virginia, North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University, and Florida International University, plus five other affiliated universities and about 30 industry partners in its global research consortium. ASSIST will be funded by an initial 5-year, $18.5 million NSF grant and will be headquartered at North Carolina State.

ASSIST researchers will use nanomaterials and nanostructures to develop self-powered health monitoring sensors and devices that use body heat and motion as power sources. These devices could be worn on the chest like a patch, on the wrist like a watch, as a cap that fits over a tooth, or in other ways, depending on the biological system that is being monitored.

The devices would give doctors, patients, and researchers uninterrupted streams of heart rate readings, respiration rates, and other health indicators, as well as personalized exposure data for environmental pollutants. In addition, the devices could help sick people better manage chronic diseases; allow health professionals to monitor the elderly from a distance; and give healthy people the information to make better decisions to keep themselves fit.

As an example of environmental monitoring related to health, personalized exposure data for pollutants such as ozone and carbon monoxide could help a child suffering from asthma avoid an environmental trigger for an attack. Miniaturized devices the size of a pen or wristwatch will make compliance simpler and therefore more likely, resulting in better health outcomes and reduced health costs to society.

The 5-year NSF grant for ASSIST is renewable for an additional 5 years and was awarded following a 2-year selection process. The grant is among a new group of Engineering Research Center awards that invest in nanotechnology.

Source: University of Virginia