Could Color Changing Helmets Keep Athletes Safer?

It’s all fun and games until someone gets a concussion. Head injuries in sports are some of the most serious and the least identifiable injuries an athlete can experience. If cranial injuries go undetected in athletes, it can lead to permanent disability, mental impairment and in very severe cases, death. Head injuries are especially a concern for athletes that engage in high impact sports like football. From peewee to pro there are hundreds of cases of athletes that have suffered severe head trauma during a game with devastating results.

To create a quicker way of identifying and subsequently treating head trauma, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a color-changing polymer that could do just that. This polymer only changes color when struck by a certain amount of force. There is a color-coded grading system that defines how much force was applied using a different color for each level of severity. The color-coding will enable paramedics to identify immediately the location and severity of a blow to the head and make a quick judgment call on whether an athlete needs more serious medical attention.

Color changing polymers aren’t necessarily new technology, but this particular kind of polymer is the first of its kind to be specifically engineered to change color on high impact. It was created using holographic lithography to make photonic crystals that change color when they deform. It doesn’t require any electricity to run, and could easily be integrated into a helmet without creating any significant difference in weight.

Could we potentially see these impact safe helmets on athletes soon? The answer is absolutely. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a molding technique that would allow these specialized photonic crystals to be mass produced. This would mean that after some additional testing and working prototypes we could be seeing these special sports helmets for bicyclists, hockey and football players in as little as 2 to 3 years.

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