Heat sensitive materials change color when hot

New polymer could prevent burns, food poisoning, traffic accidents

Imagine a fire door that changes color when hot, football jerseys that can tell when a player is overheating, road signs that change color indicating icy road conditions, and food packaging stamps that disappear when products have been kept at room temperature for too long. At the University of Rhode Island, chemists Brett Lucht and Bill Euler and chemical engineer Otto Gregory are working to make these products a reality.
The scientists are developing heat sensitive materials (polymers) that change color at various temperatures. Thus far they have been successful in creating a polymer that changes from red to yellow at 180°Fahrenheit (the temperature at which a person would suffer a burn) and at other warm temperatures.

Work on this project began when Gregory was approached by a company interested in coating cookware with a material that would change color when hot. A polymer was created, but it decomposed upon repeated exposure to high oven temperatures.

Since then, the trio has been successful in placing this polymer in plastics from which it cannot be extracted. This discovery is important to the food storage industry because it is the only FDA approved pigment that changes color.

“This polymer has an important safety application,” said Lucht. “It has the potential to prevent people from burning themselves and eating spoiled foods.” He calls this “smart packaging” because the packages would tell consumers the temperature of the product. For example, coffee lids could change color at extreme temperatures or milk cartons could have a mark that disappears if the carton reaches room temperature.

Funding for this project is provided by KM Scientific, the URI Foundation, and the URI Transportation Center, which envisions public safety applications for the polymers. The polymers can be added to a variety of products, including plastics, paints, inks, and rubbers. For instance, Gregory recalls when Ford Explorers were experiencing tire blow-outs due to heat caused by improper inflation.

“Using these polymers, we can help to prevent accidents such as these from occurring,” he said.

The polymers can also be placed in vinyl seating to warn of hot seats, on the wheels or brakes of trains to show when they are beginning to wear out, on radiator caps and engine hoses to warn of extremely high temperatures, and on road signs to warn drivers of potentially hazardous conditions. “The potential uses for these polymers are endless. These products could forewarn people that they are in potentially dangerous situations,” Gregory said.

Lucht and Euler are now concentrating on creating color changes for low temperatures and working on creating polymers that make more than one color change, ideally red for hot and blue for cold. Other vivid colors are also being studied. Gregory is focusing his research on uniformly dispersing polymers throughout different materials.

Media Contact

Todd McLeish EurekAlert!

All latest news from the category: Life Sciences and Chemistry

Articles and reports from the Life Sciences and chemistry area deal with applied and basic research into modern biology, chemistry and human medicine.

Valuable information can be found on a range of life sciences fields including bacteriology, biochemistry, bionics, bioinformatics, biophysics, biotechnology, genetics, geobotany, human biology, marine biology, microbiology, molecular biology, cellular biology, zoology, bioinorganic chemistry, microchemistry and environmental chemistry.

Back to home

Comments (0)

Write a comment

Newest articles

Advancing materials science with the help of biology and a dash of dish soap

High-speed X-ray free-electron lasers have unlocked the crystal structures of small molecules relevant to chemistry and materials science, proving a new method that could advance semiconductor and solar cell development….

Zeolite nanotube discovery made by researchers at Georgia Tech

Zeolites, which are crystalline porous materials, are very widely used in the production of chemicals, fuels, materials, and other products.  So far, zeolites have been made as 3D or 2D…

Impossible material made possible inside a graphene sandwich

The design of new materials allows for either improved efficiency of known applications or totally new applications that were out of reach with the previously existing materials. Indeed, tens of…

Partners & Sponsors