Soldiers and professional athletes often suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) due to severe impacts. Rapid detection of TBIs can be challenging, since trauma to the head is not visually detectible without the aid of complex medical equipment found in a hospital setting. Timely diagnosis is critical for the effective treatment of TBIs and the prevention of cumulative brain damage. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have devised a specialized polymer that changes color in response to different levels of force. Although still in the proof-of-principle stage, this technology is intended for use in helmets as a visual indicator of severe impact and underlying head trauma.
Holographic lithography has been previously used to produce photonic crystals with specific structures and colors that change in response to force. Technically, such crystals offer a feasible way to identify damaging forces to the brain, but practically, they are expensive to produce. As a result, the University of Pennsylvania team focused on using self-assembling polymers, which are more economical to mass produce, representing a more feasible technique for widespread commercialization. The researchers molded polymer crystals into predetermined structures. They then tested and recorded the color responsiveness of the polymer crystals to different forces and found consistent color changes to specific applied forces. Their results indicate that the color-changing polymer has the potential to measure the magnitude of shockwaves at the time of impact, providing a visual representation of the degree of impact and potential underlying brain trauma if incorporated into protective headgear.
The findings of the research will be presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
Here’s a video report from the ACS about the technology:
Report: American Chemical Society