Organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), which contain a thin organic layer that emits light when electrified, are transforming screen technology by enabling thinner, lighter, more flexible displays with wider viewing angles and higher colour contrast. OLED displays are already being used commercially in televisions, computers, smart phones and games consoles. Another major potential application for OLEDs is in wearable medical devices, such as fitness trackers and adhesive bandages – but research into how OLEDs could be used to monitor a person’s health is still in its infancy.
In 2015, QUT produced its first OLEDs on campus, after establishing an organic electronic device laboratory within the IFE’s Central Analytical Research Facility (CARF). The laboratory gives QUT researchers the tools they need to make and test organic electronic devices, including OLEDs and organic field effect transistors (OFETs), in a controlled atmosphere with very low oxygen and moisture levels.
Dr Soniya Yambem is leading a research project to test whether OLEDs can accurately measure a person’s physiological condition. By optically sensing the composition of a person’s blood or pulse, OLEDs in wearable medical devices could measure various physiological parameters and present a picture of a person’s current physical state and fitness level.
OLEDs are light, flexible and easy to fabricate, which means they could be shaped to the human body for specific applications. Moreover, OLEDs can be easily programmed or tuned, so it might be possible to customise and print devices for each patient or
Monitoring a person’s health using a wearable sensor offers a range of possibilities. In hospitals, adhesive bandages or pads containing OLEDs could be applied to infants in intensive care, avoiding the need for multiple wired sensors, which can be distressing for the patients and their families. OLEDs could also be used in fitness wristbands to help people track their own health
day by day.
The first stage of Dr Yambem’s project, completed in 2015, was to establish the facility for fabrication and testing of OLEDs at QUT. Over the next two years, Dr Yambem will trial the use of OLEDs in biomedical devices, in collaboration with researchers at QUT’s Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation. By 2018, Dr Yambem aims to demonstrate the feasibility of optical sensing using OLEDs, a platform technology with many potential applications in medicine and beyond.