Serena Williams sports sweat patch designed by Northwestern researchers in a Gatorade ad



Gatorade’s most viewed commercial on YouTube spotlights Serena Williams using groundbreaking sweat collection technology developed by Northwestern researchers.

Danny Vesurai, Reporter

A recent Gatorade ad with Serena Williams and other athletes spotlights a biometric sweat patch developed by Northwestern researchers cooperating with Gatorade.

McCormick professor John Rogers and his team debuted the flexible, microfluidic patch that uses sweat to detect chemical levels in athletes in Nov. 2016. Gatorade approached the research team a few months later and started talks about a partnership, Rogers said. The commercial is Gatorade’s most-viewed on YouTube, with 18 million views and counting.

“There’s real medical and physiological value in (the) accuracy in the device,” he said. “It’s not a toy. It’s a precise measurement platform.”

When the patch takes in sweat, it detects changes in sweat rates and chemical concentrations. Differences in color, due to chemical reactions, indicate these changes.

Gatorade’s 30-second ad shows Serena Williams working out with the patch on her forearm and has the slogan “You Fuel Us, We Fuel You.” Rogers said Gatorade wants to move toward individualizing drinks to athletes’ specific sweat and electrolyte loss. Data gathered from the patch would help them launch this initiative, he said.

After Gatorade approached the team, they created a comprehensive technical plan detailing how to increase the device’s accuracy for measuring sweat and electrolyte loss. Working with the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Rogers’ team improved the device with around 250 in-depth tests on professional athletes.

“The technology is performing better than anybody could have imagined,” he said.

Rogers’ long-time collaborator and McCormick professor Yonggang Huang also aided the effort with computational modeling, which allowed the team to rapidly run multiple tests without having to produce physical models. The team worked through about a dozen fluid problems that were hindering performance.

One problem was fluid drag, Rogers said. If the device’s channels where sweat came in were too narrow, the measurements would underestimate the amount of sweat. By running calculations on simulated fluids in motion, Huang’s models helped the team pinpoint the minimum channel dimensions.

Rogers said that the originally water-permeable device allowed sweat to evaporate, leading to inaccurate sweat rates. The team switched to polymer materials, which he said helped reach accuracy targets.

Rogers said his research team plans on expanding the sweat patch’s capabilities, working toward accurately predicting strokes and kidney disease by collecting biomarkers from sweat. He said his team and Gatorade are considering massive deployment of the device.

Rogers said he thought that Gatorade would release more commercials about the device in coming months.

Of the ad, Rogers said he thought it was clever and dynamic, and that it would “whet” people’s appetites for what the device was because it wasn’t explained in-depth.

“My 16-year-old son told me (the ad) was ‘sick,’ which I think is the highest compliment he gives anything,” he said.

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