Researchers have been hard at work on using the newest technology and data to help diagnose brain injuries, but a new tool aimed at identifying potential brain injuries from bomb explosions uses crystals, not computers.
A new report published in the online edition of NeuroImage says investigators at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences were inspired by photonic crystals that can change color when broken apart from each other. Using these crystals, the researchers created a small color-changing patch that can be stuck on soldiers’ helmets. As Medical Technology Business Europe reported, the soldier is hit by the blast from an explosive, the nanoscale crystals break apart creating easy to spot color change.
With future studies, the researchers hope to confirm the accuracy of their patches as well as calibrating the patches to a scale allowing for more informative methods of using the patches.
“Similar to how an opera singer can shatter glass crystal, we chose color-changing crystals that could be designed to break apart when exposed to a blast shockwave, causing a substantial color change,” explained Douglas H. Smith, MD, director of the center for Brain Injury and Repair and professor of Neurosurgery at University of Pennsylvania.
“We wanted to create a ‘blast badge’ that would be lightweight, durable, power-free, and perhaps most important, could be easily interpreted, even on the battlefield.”
These types of diagnostic tools for traumatic brain injury are in high demand, especially in the military. TBI is considered the “signature wound” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan due to the high numbers of soldiers returning home with significant brain trauma.
The “blast badges” are created of nanoscale structures made of pores and columns scuplted into a plastic sheet by lasers. The microfabrication technique, called holographic lithography, was created specifically for the study. Smith says it “looks like layers of Swiss cheese with columns in between.”
While the columns are nonreactive to heat, cold, or physical impact, they are designed to react specifically to blast pressure. The shockwave from the explosion causes the columns to collapse leading the pores to grow larger. This reaction creates the color change we see with the naked eye.