New color-changing polymer could indicate brain trauma

A research team at the University of Pennsylvania has developed a polymer-based material that changes colors based on how hard it is hit. The material could be added to protective headgear worn by athletes, soldiers and workers to indicate when they have suffered a brain injury.

Researchers developed the material using polymer crystals that change color when subjected to force. For instance, when subjected to a 30 mN force, which is around the force of a car hitting a brick wall at 80 mph, the polymer changes from red to green. When subjected to a 90 mN force, which is the force of a truck hitting the same wall, the polymer changes to purple.

There has been increasing concern that players in the National Football League, National Hockey League and even youth sports leagues are suffering long-term complications from head injuries, including headaches, memory loss and dementia. Currently, there isn’t an easy way to tell when someone has suffered a brain injury, and some victims unknowingly continue playing or working instead of seeking medical attention. If a patch with the new polymer material was placed on a protective helmet, it could quickly and cheaply let medical personnel know that a victim has suffered a damaging blow. Researchers will next attempt to develop material that can indicate how quickly a force was applied, which could tell doctors the severity of a victim’s brain trauma.

Pennsylvania workers who suffer a brain injury on the job may be eligible to file for workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits can include medical care and treatment as well as a percentage of wages lost during the recovery period. Some workers find it beneficial to consult with an attorney as they prepare their claim to ensure it is filed on a timely basis.