John Rogers and his team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working around the mismatch in mechanics and geometry to realize tissue-like electronic devices - bendy, waterproof and biocompatible - that could one day be implanted in the human body to open up new frontiers in biomedicine.

"Because you can't change the biology, we as materials scientists have focused on new ways to use semiconductor materials in electronic devices that have the shape and mechanical properties of human tissue," he tells Louise Mayor, features editor of Physics World, in the latest video report from our sister site.

One specific type of device they're developing is bio-integrated light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and as proof of principle they have already implanted an array of LEDs under the skin of a mouse. In the video, Rogers explains that such LEDs can act as a diagnostic tool when used for spectroscopy - combining an LED array with sensors allows tissue to be diagnosed based on how it reflects and absorbs light.

But there are therapeutic uses too: Rogers is also interested in putting LEDs in the body along with certain classes of drugs that can be photoactivated. "So you introduce them into the body in an inactive form, and then you can activate them locally by exposing them to light," he says, adding that there is also evidence emerging that phototherapy – simply irradiating tissue with light – can actually accelerate the wound-healing process.

Another idea under development involves the integration of miniature LEDs onto the end of surgical gloves. This could improve the efficacy of surgical procedures by enabling the surgeon to locally probe the state of tissue during an operation. Other types of sensors and processing electronics could also be integrated with the gloves.

For Rogers and colleagues, the ultimate goal is a new generation of implantable bioelectronics - with applications ranging from advanced surgical devices to light-activated drug delivery and accelerated wound healing. Press "Play" to hear the full story.

• This interview forms part of a series filmed at the MRS Fall Meeting in Boston, MA. See also Living in a material world, Funding the frontiers of materials science and Spreading the word: why science outreach matters.