The history of replacing human skin with something else has been pretty weird from the start. The oldest recorded evidence of medical skin grafts is found in the Egyptian Papyrus of Ebers, which dates back to roughly 1,550 BCE. It describes grafting frog skin over a human wound. Since then, humanity has experimented with porcine skin grafts (‘porcine’ sounds so much loftier than ‘pig’ or ‘swine’, doesn’t it?), artificial skin made of spider silk, and skin grafts from amnion, the thin organic layer around babies in the womb that can be collected with the placenta after birth.
The future, though, could get even weirder. In 2014, a team of scientists from Seoul, South Korea, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, made an important breakthrough in the field of synthetic skin. In a paper titled “Stretchable silicon nanoribbon electronics for skin prosthesis” published in December, the team described their work. Their synthetic skin takes the form of thin, rubbery sheets that have a golden latticework of electronic sensors built in. The sensors can measure temperature, pressure, and even moisture.
The goal of the project, led from Seoul by Dr. Dae-Hyeong Kim, is to create a “skin” for artificial limbs so that they can fire detailed signals back to the brain. Currently, an amputee using a prosthetic hand, for example, has the ability to control the movement of fingers and wrist using muscle twitching, but even the most advanced prosthetics can only send back limited information to the nervous system.