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Colour-changing material on helmets could help medics assess head injury

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A new material that changes colour after impact could be used to indicate when athletes have suffered a brain injury.

According to the developers, the material is lightweight and needs no power to function, so it could be affixed to sports helmets without affecting the wearer or the game.

The thin polymeric film produces different colours depending on the force of the impact. This could give vital information to medical personnel, showing the magnitude of force that was delivered to the person´s head.

Currently, there is no easy way to tell if a person has just sustained a brain injury. As a result, athletes may remain in the field of play and potentially cause more harm.

The research was presented at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society.

As the University of Pennsylvania´s Shu Yang explained, a force-responsive, colour-changing patch could prevent additional injury. “If the force was large enough, and you could easily tell that, then you could immediately seek medical attention,” she explained.

Yang´s team of researchers tested the films by pressing down on them with known force. The sensors could detect pressures between 10 and 20 MPa, which are comparable to impact forces experienced during a hard tackle or a car accident.

The material starts out orange-red, but as force is applied it changes first to green and then to purple and blue.

The structural changes of the polymer are not reversible, meaning that the colour change remains after the incident and can be read by medics in the field or in hospital.

Next, the researchers want to work with neuroscientists to start testing the sensor in more real-life situations.