Lung-heart super sensor on a chip tinier than a ladybug

During a stroll, a woman’s breathing becomes a slight bit shallower, and a monitor in her clothing alerts her to get a telemedicine check-up.

A sensor chip smaller than a ladybug records multiple lung and heart signals along with body movements. Two finely manufactured layers of silicon, which overlay each other separated by the space of 270 nanometers — about 0.005 the width of a human hair.

Vibrations from bodily motions and sounds put part of the chip in flux, making the voltage flux, too, thus creating readable electronic outputs.The chip, which acts as an advanced electronic stethoscope and accelerometer in one, is aptly called an accelerometer contact microphone. It detects vibrations that enter the chip from inside the body while keeping out distracting noise from outside the body’s core like airborne sounds.

The detection bandwidth is enormous — from broad, sweeping motions to inaudibly high-pitched tones. Thus, the sensor chip records all at once fine details of the heartbeat, pulse waves traversing the body’s tissues, respiration rates, and lung sounds. It even tracks the wearer’s physical activities such as walking.

The signals are recorded in sync, potentially offering the big picture of a patient’s heart and lung health. The experimental device is currently battery-powered and uses a second chip called a signal-conditioning circuit to translate the sensor chip’s signals into patterned read-outs. Three sensors or more could be inserted into a chest band that would triangulate health signals to locate their sources.

Someday, we directly plug into the electrical network to make our bodies work.