This Color Changing Helmet Material Could Help Detect Concussions

Given how difficult it is to diagnose brain injuries, an external signal could be extremely helpful.

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Aug 17 2015, 4:15pm

Image: Carly Webber/Flickr

A new helmet material that visually indicates how severe an impact is could help soldiers and athletes get quicker, better brain trauma diagnoses.

The material, developed by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, changes color only when hit with a powerful, quick force. When hit with 30 millinewtons of force the material changes color from red to green. When struck with 90 millinewtons, it turns purple.

Shu Yang, a material science and engineering research at UPenn, and her team developed the polymer-based material to replicate a more expensive version made of photonic crystals. When enough force is applied to the material, it changes the internal structure of the polymers, which causes a different color to appear on the surface. They'll be presenting their research at the American Chemical Society annual meeting this week.

Part of what makes a concussion and other brain trauma so scary is the fact that we still struggle to properly and quickly diagnose such injuries. Without proper diagnosis, a patient can risk further, long-term damage by compounding a concussion that's been misdiagnosed as less severe than it is. This week, a dozen or so former NFL players will be filing appeals because they're unsatisfied with a $1 billion settlement for players who suffer long-term effects from head injuries sustained during their careers.

Yang and her team say the material they've developed could be used in helmets in just a few years. If adopted by professional sports organizations it would mean, for some some players, quickly identifying a severe injury and getting proper treatment, potentially dodging a lifetime of chronic complications.