Nanshu Lu, engineer of ‘electronic tattoos,’ named to TR35

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For wiring up the human body with “electronic tattoos,” Nanshu Lu, a 2009 Ph.D. graduate of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has been recognized by Technology Review magazine as among the world’s 35 top innovators under the age of 35.

A panel of expert judges and the editorial staff of Technology Review, published by MIT, selected her for the TR35 from a pool of more than 300 nominees.

Most celebrated for her work on the “electronic tattoo,” Lu is an expert at integrating tiny electronic parts into stretchable materials. Her creation is an extremely thin and flexible silicone device that adheres to skin and mimics its texture and elasticity. The device contains sensors that can monitor vital signs like pulse, temperature, vocal vibrations—and potentially also brain signals. The breakthrough that enabled this work was Lu’s use of silicon “islands” connected by a mesh of nanoscale metallic ribbons, rather than conventional wires, which would weaken under stress.

Holding a bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics from Tsinghua University in China, Lu completed her master’s and doctoral degrees at Harvard, focusing on solid mechanics with advisers Zhigang Suo and Joost Vlassak. Their work explored various ways to create patterns of metallic thin films on elastic substrates that could stretch and buckle without breaking the circuitry.