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A device that monitors UV has been developed by Australian scientistsNASA/GSFC/SDO

A 'smart skin' device has been created that alerts users to harmful levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Scientists from Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have created a stretchable and tunable device that senses UV light – which can lead to skin cancer.

Publishing their findings in the journal Small, the researchers explained: "The ability to operate electronic devices under various mechanically stressed states can provide a set of unique functionalities that are beyond the capabilities of conventional rigid electronics."

The team created the material with thin layers of zinc oxide that act as UV light sensors.

Study author Philipp Gutruf told the Sydney Morning Herald that it could be made into a patch or band that is wirelessly linked to another device – like a tablet or smartphone – to alert the user to high UV levels.

"If you are at the beach you could wear this device around your wrist or as a skin patch and jump into the ocean, it will be able to monitor the UV levels and tell you if you have had too much," he said.

The key breakthrough in the research is that it uses rubber instead of a silicone base, so the device is much more flexible.

Gutruf said: "This has been hard to do because rubber doesn't usually withstand the temperatures of processing. Because they are so flexible and stretchable you can integrate them into clothes, backpacks, gloves and so on."

Researchers say the device could also be used to detect toxic gas, so it could be used in coal industries or to monitor air pollution in cities, for example. "The unique surface structures are exploited to create stretchable gas and UV light sensors," they wrote.

Study co-author Madhu Bhaskaran told the newspaper: "The smart thing here is that these sensors can be integrated very easily either into clothing or onto the skin. It is a seamless way of integrating sensors on to the human body."