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Issue 17, 2018
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Soft electrodes combining hydrogel and liquid metal

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Soft and stretchable materials play an important role in the emerging fields of soft robotics, human–machine interfaces, and stretchable electronics. Hydrogels are compelling materials because they are soft, chemically tunable, biocompatible, and ionically conductive. Hydrogels have been used as components of skin mountable sensors, such as electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes, and show promise in emerging devices as stretchable, transparent electrodes. Ultimately, these types of devices interface the hydrogel with rigid metallic electrodes to connect with electronic circuitry. Here, we show it is possible to interface hydrogel with liquid metal (eutectic gallium indium, EGaIn) electrodes to create completely soft and deformable electrodes that provide low resistance traces through the gel without altering its mechanical properties. As a case study, we created and tested electrodes for ECG monitoring. ECG electrodes require low impedance at biomedically relevant frequencies (1–50 Hz). Potentiostatic electrochemical impedance spectroscopy measurements show that capacitive effects at the hydrogel–EGaIn interface dominate the impedance at these low frequencies, yet can be reduced by interfacing the metal with acidic or basic hydrogels that remove the native oxide skin from the metal. Increasing the ionic strength of the hydrogel also helps in lowering the impedance of the metal–hydrogel electrodes. The resulting devices have signal-to-noise ratios that exceed commercial ECG electrodes. The softness of these hydrogels can be modified without compromising the electrical properties to create truly soft electrodes. Interfacing liquid metal conductors with hydrogels represents a potential strategy of creating soft electrodes for various bioelectronic applications, e-skins, and next-generation soft robotics.

Graphical abstract: Soft electrodes combining hydrogel and liquid metal

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Publication details

The article was received on 18 Feb 2018, accepted on 04 Apr 2018 and first published on 11 Apr 2018

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C8SM00337H
Citation: Soft Matter, 2018,14, 3296-3303
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    Soft electrodes combining hydrogel and liquid metal

    T. Shay, O. D. Velev and M. D. Dickey, Soft Matter, 2018, 14, 3296
    DOI: 10.1039/C8SM00337H

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