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Silly putty sensor is so sensitive it can register the steps of a spider

Silly putty is a great toy for kids, but it doesn’t hold too much appeal once we’re midway through grade school.

That could change if researchers from Trinity College, Dublin and the University of Manchester have anything to say about it. As part of a new project, experts at the institutions created a type of precision sensing putty they’ve nicknamed “G-putty.”

With the initial standing for graphene, G-putty is a type of electricity-conducting putty, capable of creating extremely sensitive sensors. Able to detect even the slightest deformation or impact, G-putty can even register the movements of tiny spiders walking over its surface.

“We certainly didn’t set out to build a spider detector,” Professor Jonathan Coleman of Trinity College, Dublin’s Advanced Materials and Bio-Engineering Research (AMBER) center told Digital Trends with a laugh. “That wasn’t part of our original research mandate.”

State of the art sensors using graphene and silly putty

It does, however, demonstrate just how sensitive the material is. In addition to spider-sensing, Coleman said that G-putty can also be attached to human subjects and used to measure breathing, pulse, and even blood pressure. It can do all of this because it is hundreds of times more sensitive than regular sensors — which could make it uniquely valuable for this kind of medical application.

“Wearable devices that measure your pulse and provide health insights are becoming a big market,” he continued. “In this field, one of the biggest goals is to have a device able to continuously measure your blood pressure, because that’s a key indicator of wellness and is not easy to measure cheaply and continuously. We believe that we’ve made a significant advance in that area.”

You can read more about G-putty in a paper about it, titled “Sensitive electromechanical sensors using viscoelastic graphene-polymer nanocomposites,” which was published this week in the journal Science. Even if you don’t, though, you could well be hearing about G-putty a whole lot more in the next few years.

“This is a really promising material, but like any new material there’s still work to be done,” Coleman said. “There is more to research, but we really feel that we’re quite far along. I believe in this as a technology, and I firmly believe that it will be commercialized as part of a wearable device or similar in the future.”

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