Researchers at Trinity College Dublin have combined a "wonder material" with a children's toy to make an incredibly sensitive sensor with potential applications in medicine.

The scientists found the mixture of graphene and silly putty was capable of measuring blood pressure, and even detecting the footsteps of spiders.

The discovery was made by a team at the AMBER materials science centre hosted at TCD which has been experimenting with different applications and ways of making graphene.

A layer of carbon one atom thick, graphene has been dubbed a "wonder material" because it has many amazing properties, including being incredibly conductive, strong and light.

But when the scientists, led by AMBER Investigator Professor Jonathan Coleman and postdoctoral researcher Dr Conor Boland, combined it with the far less wondrous substance, silly putty, they got a surprise.

They discovered that not only did the graphene make the viscous silly putty conductive, but also super sensitive to any deformation or impact.

"When we added the graphene to the silly putty, it caused it to conduct electricity, but in a very unusual way," said Prof Coleman.

"The electrical resistance of the G-putty was very sensitive to deformation with the resistance increasing sharply on even the slightest strain or impact."

"Unusually, the resistance slowly returned close to its original value as the putty self-healed over time."

In fact the team found it was up to six times more sensitive than existing sensors - making it capable of even detecting the footsteps of a small spider walking over it.

When they mounted the G-putty onto the chest and neck of humans, they were even able to use it to measure breathing, pulse and blood pressure.

The team will now take the findings of the research, published in the journal Science, and try to develop further applications for the putty in medical devices and diagnostics.

"While a common application has been to add graphene to plastics in order to improve the electrical, mechanical, thermal or barrier properties, the resultant composites have generally performed as expected without any great surprises," said Professor Coleman.

"The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material. This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide."

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