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Feeling the Pressure: New Pressure-Sensor Film Changes Color Depending on Force

May 02, 2014 06:32 PM EDT

Researchers developed a new pressure-senor film that changes color depending on how much force is applied to it, described in the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters.

This multi-purpose technology can be applied to a plethora of items, from baseball gloves to crash-test dummies.

Yadong Yin, an associate professor of chemistry from the University of California, Riverside, and his colleagues successfully came up with this high-resolution sensor that can essentially be painted onto any object, according to the press release. Its most impressive feature is that the more pressure the sensor feels, the more its color will change.

Existing sensors in the market today cannot withstand the pressure given off by large pieces of metal, Yin notes. Others have color indicators (usually of the same shade), that are difficult to interpret. This nanotechnology changes the game - not to mention they are so small that 1,000 would fit across the width of a human hair.

The sensors are made from tiny gold nanoparticles linked together in a chain that change colors when the chain is disrupted. And not only can you see where the object was hit, but you can visualize how hard.

"For a harder hit, you will see more red," Yin explained to The Atlantic. "Someplace which is not really hit may remain as blue. So you can actually see that immediately. You can see the transition."

The nanoparticles may be made out of gold, but they are so small that they are still marketable, Yin said. Silver is also a viable option since it's cheaper and would offer a broader array of colors because it absorbs more light.

"Chemically, gold is more stable," Yin added. "But if we use silver, we'll see a color change from blue to yellow. So if you apply pressure it may become first green then red and eventually to yellow."

Yin is already receiving emails from people with ideas about how to apply the technology - one cellist suggested using nanoparticle sensors to teach students how to hold instruments properly.

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