Carbon nanofiber-filled conductive silicone elastomers as soft, dry bioelectronic interfaces
Soft and pliable conductive polymer composites hold promise for application as bioelectronic interfaces such as for electroencephalography (EEG). In clinical, laboratory, and real-world EEG there is a desire for dry, soft, and comfortable interfaces to the scalp that are capable of relaying the μV-level scalp potentials to signal processing electronics. A key challenge is that most material approaches are sensitive to deformation-induced shifts in electrical impedance associated with decreased signal-to-noise ratio. This is a particular concern in real-world environments where human motion is present. The entire set of brain information outside of tightly controlled laboratory or clinical settings are currently unobtainable due to this challenge. Here we explore the performance of an elastomeric material solution purposefully designed for dry, soft, comfortable scalp contact electrodes for EEG that is specifically targeted to have flat electrical impedance response to deformation to enable utilization in real world environments. A conductive carbon nanofiber filled polydimethylsiloxane (CNF-PDMS) elastomer was evaluated at three fill ratios (3, 4 and 7 volume percent). Electromechanical testing data is presented showing the influence of large compressive deformations on electrical impedance as well as the impact of filler loading on the elastomer stiffness. To evaluate usability for EEG, pre-recorded human EEG signals were replayed through the contact electrodes subjected to quasi-static compressive strains between zero and 35%. These tests show that conductive filler ratios well above the electrical percolation threshold are desirable in order to maximize signal-to-noise ratio and signal correlation with an ideal baseline. Increasing fill ratios yield increasingly flat electrical impedance response to large applied compressive deformations with a trade in increased material stiffness, and with nominal electrical impedance tunable over greater than 4 orders of magnitude. EEG performance was independent of filler loading above 4 vol % CNF (< 103 ohms).