Science of innovation: electronic tattoo

Flexible nanocircuits that can go on almost anything. As we approach President’s Day, which comes on the heels of Abraham Lincoln’s actual birthday, thoughts turn to … patents. Yes, patents! Those of us on the development team for the Science of Innovation video series were certainly surprised to learn that Honest Abe is the only U.S. president to hold a patent—Patent No. 6,469, was granted on May 22, 1849, for a device for “Buoying Vessels Over Shoals,” which was a flotation system for lifting riverboats stuck on sandbars.

Not surprising is that the inventive spirit has been around a very long time and in unexpected sources. The United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) is spearheading a tool to spark the inventive spirit in your students. The USPTO, along with NBC Learn, NSF, and NSTA have put together a series of videos and connected lesson plans that highlight innovative patented technologies and emphasize STEM in action. The series is available cost-free on,, and

The lesson plans are based loosely on the research of Brian Hand at the University of Iowa, whose science writing heuristic fosters within students a more complete understanding of science concepts. The lesson plans use the videos as springboards to help you involve your students in developing their own questions to explore with liberal use of prompts to keep students focused during their investigations. The depth and complexity of the inquiry falls out of the grade level, background knowledge, and creativity of your students. Although the strategy can be used with elementary students through college-level, the videos and lesson plans are expected to be most successful with middle- and high-school students. A quick search in the NSTA Science Store will give you additional resources on the science writing heuristic.

You may not need another hands-on strategy, but take a look at the lesson plans anyway. Included are ideas for how to incorporate the videos into your own lessons as well as background and timing on the video segments. Then, be sure to let us know how they work for you in real classroom situations. And if you had to make significant changes to a lesson, we’d love to see what you did differently, as well as why you made the changes. Leave a comment, and we’ll get in touch with you with submission information.

And while you’re on the Internet, take a look at Lincoln’s actual patent. Walk through a recurring activity in the lesson plans that gives students search terms related to the video topic to use at For Lincoln’s, all you have to do is search on Abraham Lincoln. It’s the first one in the list!

–Judy Elgin Jensen

Image of Flexible nanocircuits courtesy of Gabriel Walsh.


SOI: Electronic Tattoo highlights the collaboration involved in the development of ultra-thin, flexible, elastic membranes capable of detecting and recording electrical signals from the heart, brain, and various other muscles and organs by simply adhering to a person’s skin.

Lesson plans

Two versions of the lesson plans help students build background and develop questions they can explore regarding nanocircuits and their use in health monitoring. Both include strategies to support students in their own quest for answers and strategies for a more focused approach that helps all students participate in hands-on inquiry.

SOI: Electronic Tattoo, A Science Perspective models how students might investigate a question about how temperature might affect a semiconducting material.

SOI: Electronic Tattoo, An Engineering Perspective models how students might design an electronic membrane within a given set of constraints.

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