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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.

by Kaleigh Rogers
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.