The World Triathlon Series in September in Cozumel, Mexico gave us the lasting selfless image of the Brownlee brothers – Alistair helping Jonny over the finish line and shunning the chance to win the race. Jonny was exhausted by the heat and the race and was in a desperate situation which would have been worse had his brother not helped him at the end. These are familiar sights though at elite and high-intensity sports events where athletes have to ensure they are well trained before and well hydrated through the event itself. Thus, a low cost skin patch which helps to identify levels of dehydration represents new technology to aid physical performance.
Researchers from Purdue University have developed a low-cost skin patch that changes color to indicate different levels of hydration. A statement from the university describes the palm-sized patch as a filter paper that is laser-machined to create a radial array of strips, which are laminated with a water-impermeable film to form microchannels. These channels are filled with water-activated dye at one end. So as the wearer sweats, the strips react and sequentially change colour from blue to red and providing easily identifiable levels of moisture loss and dehydration levels.
The innovation is useful to marathon runners, military personnel and others to help prevent dehydration. For humans, hydration represents a very delicate parameter believes Babak Ziaie, a professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University. He adds,
Even small deviations such as 2 percent from normal levels can affect a person’s cognitive and physical performance by more than 30 percent.”
Currently, methods used to monitor hydration are invasive, require non-portable equipment or do not yield results immediately. By contrast, the skin patch is a user-friendly, fast method to collect and measure sweat secretion. It has been tested at a sweating rate of 90 microliters per hour over a square centimeter of skin, which corresponds to normal human sweat rates. Graduate student, Vaibhav Jain, involved in the research said,
We have talked to many experts including marathon directors, the Ironman World Championship, Olympic triathlon athletes and many collegiate and professional coaches, athletes, race directors and EMTs to validate the need for this kind of product.”
They have received interested inquiries from industrial companies. Ziaie believes their fabrication process can be scaled up to large-volume manufacturing. The researchers have filed a patent application for the concept through the Office of Technology Commercialization of the Purdue Research Foundation.