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Jan. 20, 2014

Smart socks: Biosensors in clothes may someday warn of sickness

As the country settles in for yet another winter full of colds and flu, imagine if your undershirt or socks not only kept you warm but also warned you about an oncoming infection.

A $400,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award granted to Michigan State University’s Peter Lillehoj may someday make that a reality.

An assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Lillehoj will spend the next five years advancing research on innovative wearable biosensors that can be used to detect illnesses and monitor health.

“This technology will lead to lightweight and unobtrusive sensing systems that can be directly integrated onto fabrics and garments,” Lillehoj said.

One of Lillehoj’s overall goals is to advance wearable sensor technology which is currently limited to measuring physiological parameters, such as heart and respiratory rates and blood pressure.

“Little has been done to create wearable sensors for biomolecular detection,” he said. “This research is aimed at developing wearable sensing systems that can detect biomarkers in secreted body fluids, such as sweat or urine.”

Lillehoj also will focus on developing textile batteries that are activated by body fluids for on-demand electricity generation. Based on this approach, the same fluids that are being detected could also power the device, minimizing its overall size and weight.

In addition to his research activities, he will also use the NSF CAREER Award to develop new courses and outreach programs that promote micro- and nanotechnologies for biomedical applications.

Lillehoj joined the MSU faculty in the fall of 2012 and becomes the 14th member of the MSU College of Engineering faculty to receive an NSF CAREER Award in the past five years.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award is among the NSF's most prestigious honors, recognizing young faculty members who are effectively integrating research and teaching.