Applied Physics

Blast Assessments

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Science  19 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6007, pp. 1023
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6007.1023-c
CREDIT: CULLEN ET AL., NEUROIMAGE 10.1016/J.NEUROIMAGE.2010.10.076 (2010)

Shrapnel is not the only danger posed by bombs. The exposure of soldiers to blast waves from explosive devices may, like the repeated blows to the head inflicted on boxers in the ring, result in traumatic brain injury that is not always immediately perceptible or diagnosed. As in the case of the punch-drunk boxer, continual exposures of this sort can lead to serious damage in the long term. Cullen et al. have devised a simple method based on the blast-induced change in color of a photonic crystal to provide a quantitative measure of blast exposure. The photonic crystal—similar in structure to an opal, with its material disrupted by a periodic array of holes—shimmers with a signature set of colors indicative of its particular periodic structure. The authors lithographically fabricated crystalline strips, which could be attached to helmets and other clothing, from chemically robust resins stable to temperatures as high as 300°C. Exposure to the shockwaves of an explosion distorts the structure and the color of these photonic crystal sensor strips. Calibration of the color change to blast strength can then provide an instant assessment of blast exposure and the subsequent need for precautions or medical intervention that may otherwise be overlooked.

NeuroImage 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.10.076 (2010).

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