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New Color Shifting Material May Save Lives by Detecting Defects

Engineers from the University of California at Berkeley have designed a material that changes colors similar to the skin of a chameleon. The change in colors occurs when the material is bent or flexed. Silicon film is engraved with microscopic color design that will reflect a selected range of colors determined by the manner in which the silicon is bent or flexed. The surface of the material interacts with wavelengths of light to reflect the color of the object to the eye.

Bridges closed for repairs often result in traffic snarls. A collapsed bridge may cost countless human lives. The consequence of floods, earthquakes and age may cause defects that weaken the structure of a bridge. Throughout history, some of the most expensive engineering projects have involved bridges. A steel truss arch bridge along I-35W crossing the Mississippi River in Minnesota collapsed in 2007. The collapse of the eight lane bridge claimed the lives of 13 people and injured 145.

The composite structure of a space rocket undergoes massive force upon reentry into the earth’s atmosphere. Stress levels in the structure are normally reduced or eliminated with modern technology and design. The structural design of aircraft is important to achieve lift. However, structural fatigue and corrosion have been blamed as the culprit of many crashes. The 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia disaster was due to faulty design. Helicopter Service Flight 451 went down over the Norwegian Sea in 1997 claiming 12 lives due to structural fatigue. In addition to the deaths of four people aboard EL AL Flight 1862 in October of 1992, 39 people on the ground were killed. Metal fatigue from corrosion in a pylon fuse pin was attributed to the crash.

Defects in construction material for airplanes, bridges, buildings, helicopters and space rockets may soon be identified by color changing sensors created from the chameleon-like material developed by the engineers at Berkeley. Particular colors may be assigned to detect structural fatigue and distress to prevent future catastrophes and save human lives. In the near future, a simple inspection by an engineer will detect an unsound structure with the naked eye. Repairs may be made and catastrophes avoided.

 

* Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Creative Commons.

 

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