A rubber-like fiber that can flex and stretch with the human spine while delivering both optical impulses and electrical connections for stimulation and monitoring of the spine could be used in the study of spinal cord neurons and potentially to help restore spinal cord function.
A team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Washington and Oxford University has created a hybrid probe that maintains low optical transmission losses in the visible range and that can stand up under strains exceeding those occurring in mammalian spinal cords.
The team combined a transparent elastomer that could act as a waveguide for optical signals and a coating formed of a mesh of silver nanowires to produce a conductive layer for electrical signals. To process the elastomer, the material was embedded in a polymer cladding, then drawn into a highly stretchable, flexible fiber. The cladding was dissolved once the drawing process was completed, leaving a transparent fiber with electrically conductive, stretchy nanowire coatings. The fiber can stretch by 20 to 30 percent without any effect on its properties.
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