Could graphene-embedded T-shirts alleviate seasonal affective disorder?
Graphene could be a key to tackle seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — just in time for Blue Monday. A group of Graphene Flagship researchers have developed T-shirts embedded with graphene-based ultraviolet (UV) sensors, which can detect sunlight exposure in real-time. These new prototypes can facilitate self-management of UV exposure at a time of the year when sunlight is limited.
Falling on January 21 this year, Blue Monday is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year, partially attributed to low sunlight levels during the winter months. This development in graphene technology for wearables provides an opportunity for the UK population to better self-monitor their daylight sun exposure, of which too little UV exposure is strongly linked with SAD.
The prototype of the light-sensing T-shirts has been developed by researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Centre, a partner of the biggest EU-funded research initiative – the Graphene Flagship project. Smart-clothing would allow the wearer to track UV exposure and other measurables on their mobile devices. Using real-time data, the wearer can make informed decisions to alleviate the effects of low sunlight, such as deciding to spend some time near a SAD lamp — a light therapy device that mimics the effect of natural sunlight. As a result, the product could be used to minimise the likelihood of SAD during the winter months.
Led by the Andrea C. Ferrari, science and technology officer for the Graphene Flagship, this project was recently awarded a CAPE Acorn Post-graduate Research Award.
This UV sensing technology can be used for a range of applications, not only for detecting a lack of sunlight, but primarily for detecting too much UV exposure. After all, too much sun may lead to skin cancer or skin damage if the person in question is naïve to the extensiveness of their UV exposure.
“Thanks to the support of the Graphene Flagship we successfully developed these photodetectors, which consist of an array of graphene pads combined with light sensitive graphene quantum dots”, explained Dr Amin Taheri Najafabadi, research associate at Graphene Flagship partner the Cambridge Graphene Centre at the University of Cambridge.
“The next steps are adding other components to the prototype, such as a vibration alert which flags too much or too little UV exposure, to create a completely autonomous alarm system for abnormal irradiation”, added Shahab Akhavan, a researcher at Cambridge who is also working extensively on the subject.
Graphene was the world’s first two-dimensional material, isolated in 2004 at the University of Manchester, which is now a partner in the Graphene Flagship. This international initiative has allowed research on graphene and related materials to grow to international levels, with revolutionary research and industrial partners stemming across Europe, from ICFO in Barcelona to Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
The Graphene Flagship aims to take graphene and related materials from the realm of academic laboratories into European society; demonstrated by the use of graphene and related materials in wearables as an important area of emerging technologies. Now, the research has reached a pinnacle point with market-ready prototypes, ready to move to the factory floors.
This achievement has been made possible due to funding by the Graphene Flagship, a project funded by the European Commission. With a budget of €1 billion over 10 years, it represents a new form of joint, coordinated research, forming one of Europe’s biggest ever research initiatives.