What Color Was That Blast? Trauma-Measurement Stickers for Soldiers
One problem with getting caught in an explosion (aside from, well, getting caught in an explosion) is the long-term damage that isn't easily detectable at first. For example, a soldier caught in a roadside bomb attack could emerge seemingly unscathed, only to encounter long-term brain difficulty later on.
This is where science comes in: developing a uniform-mounted measuring device for explosions.
Blast waves stretch and shear the brain, damaging the long nerve cells connecting different regions of the brain. These cells can be several centimetres long, but the damage can only be detected using a specialised MRI scan.
The long-term effects of bTBI are uncertain, but evidence suggests that lasting psychological and cognitive problems can result. So a way to record the strength of the blast a person receives would help doctors to decide which patients need special attention.
"Depending on the damage, you'll have different colour intensities,"
says Shu Yang, who helped develop the crystal. "Based on that information we can extract how much force the soldier has received."
Yang and colleagues have designed a sticker containing six layers of crystal, each 1 micrometer thick, that can be worn on a soldier's clothing or helmet.
Yang's research is backed by the Office of Naval Research. Other military agencies are working on their own answers to mapping the injuries. Darpa recently gave Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center a $2 million contract to develop a flexible tape packed with "multiple sensors to collect and record data associated with blasts, including shock waves, acceleration, acoustic levels, and light intensities." The Army has already outfitted 1,145 soldiers' helmets with lower-tech blast monitors.
Shu Yang's next step: "develop a method to quantify the [crystal] color changes and translate this into a measure of neurological damage."