The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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ECE’s Yeonsik Noh Works on Team Converting Discarded CDs into Wearable Biosensors

Yeonsik Noh

Yeonsik Noh

Electronic waste, intensified by the tiny lifespan of many electronics, is a global problem, as perhaps best illustrated by the buildup of outdated compact discs (CDs), which are quickly piling up in landfills everywhere. Now Yeonsik Noh, an assistant professor in both the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing and an adjunct in the Biomedical Engineering Department, is playing a key role on a multi-disciplinary research team that offers a second life for CDs by turning them into flexible biosensors, which can monitor electrical activity in the human body. See Medical Device and Diagnostics Online.

The research team recently published its findings in a paper describing their work in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

The team, led by Ahyeon Koh, an assistant professor in the Binghamton University Department of Biomedical Engineering, has developed a way “to separate a gold CD’s thin metallic layer from the rigid plastic to turn into a range of biosensors.” According to the story in Medical Device and Diagnostics Online, these sensors can monitor electrical activity in the heart and muscles as well as measure lactose, glucose, pH, and oxygen levels.

Dr. Noh said that his Nursing Engineering Laboratory at UMass Amherst has been collaborating with Dr. Koh for interdisciplinary healthcare research work. With expertise in bioinstrumentation and wearable remote health monitoring techniques, Noh has supported Koh’s research group in the wireless electrical biosignal data (ECG/EMG) collection using the upcycled bioelectronic sensors that Koh proposed in this study.​​

As Noh explained about his UMass lab, “In the Nursing Engineering Laboratory, we are focusing on the development of personalized healthcare and health management strategies and systems based on wearable technology from both nursing and engineering perspectives.”​

According to the research team’s Nature Communications paper, “Inspired by the need for sustainable solutions, this study resulted in a multifaceted approach to upcycling compact discs. The once-ubiquitous [CDs] can be transformed into stretchable and flexible biosensors. Our experiments and advanced prototypes show that effective, innovative biosensors can be developed at a low-cost.”

The paper went on to describe how an affordable, craft-based, mechanical cutter allows pre-determined patterns to be scored on the recycled metal, an essential first step for producing stretchable, wearable electronics.

“The active metal harvested from the compact discs was inert, cytocompatible, and capable of vital biopotential measurements,” as the Nature Communications paper noted. “Additional studies examined the material’s resistive emittance, temperature sensing, real-time metabolite monitoring performance, and moisture-triggered transience.”

The Nature Communications paper concluded that “This sustainable approach for upcycling electronic waste provides an advantageous, research-based, waste stream that does not require cutting-edge microfabrication facilities, expensive materials, and high-caliber engineering skills.”

According to the article in Medical Device and Diagnostics Online, “The entire process—which is nontoxic, completed in 20 to 30 minutes, and costs about $1.50 per device—resulted in flexible sensors that could be stuck onto someone for monitoring through a connection to a smartphone app. [The researchers] envision that medical professionals or patients could get readings on people’s vital signs and track progress over time using the system.” (September 2022)