Color-Changing Material May Help Detect Traumatic Brain Injury VIDEO

The polymer-based material changes color based on the force of impact.

Red means stop. That may soon be the case when detecting traumatic brain injuries, thanks to an innovative material that changes color based on force of impact.

The polymer-based material, created by a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, may be an important development in the detection of traumatic brain injuries sustained during athletic events and other scenarios, including combat. The team presented their findings at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Head trauma, especially from sports such as football and blast injuries sustained during combat, is increasingly becoming a top concern among health professionals as long-term ramifications come into focus. Lacking however is a clear, quick detection tool to assist medical decision-making on the spot. Often, participants re-engage with their activity after sustaining a head injury due to failed detection or mild symptoms, which can cause further damage. 

The researchers set out to develop such a tool that could potentially be incorporated into protective head gear that indicates the extent of damage and allows the persons involved to seek immediate medical attention. 

Originally, the team used holographic lithography (HL) to create crystals with structures that gave them specific colors. Upon a forceful impact, the internal structures of the crystals were altered and the colors changed. While lightweight and not requiring power, the crystals were not cost-effective. Instead, the team turned to self-assembling polymers to form crystals with specific colors. Just like the HL crystals, when force was applied, the color changed.

The team experimented with different degrees of force, including applying a 30mN force — about the force of a sedan moving at 80 mph hitting a brick wall — which turned the polymer from red to green. When the team applied a 90 mN force, representing the force of a truck hitting a brick wall at that same speed, the polymer turned purple.

 “We were able to change the color consistently with certain forces,” said Shu Yang, PhD, noting that the tested force is “right in the range of a blast injury or a concussion.”

The team plans to continue working on the technology in order to be able to detect how quickly a force is applied — an important factor in determining the extent of brain trauma.

For more information, watch video of a press presentation of the data from the ACS meeting below.