My watch list
my.chemeurope.com  
Login  

'Twist and shine': Development of a new photoluminescent sensor material

19-Apr-2017

OIST

Top: The mechanophore molecule is inserted within the short, tightly packed units of the polyurethane polymer. Bottom: when a physical force (in this case stretching indicated by the symbol F) is applied onto the polymer while under an excitation source (here a UV light), the mechanophore will increase the intensity of the emitted light (here shown as Force).

Stress sensors are important tools when it comes to evaluating the robustness of a material facing strong mechanical forces. OIST researchers have just published in Advanced Materials an article reporting a new kind of sensor molecules that brightens up when the material they are incorporated into comes under heavy mechanical stress.

Such light-based sensing molecules, also called photoluminescent mechanophores, are not new, but currently available applications are single-use only. They would typically involve a strong force -- compressing, twisting or stretching for example -- breaking a specific chemical bond between two atoms or irreversibly pulling apart two molecular patterns in the sensing molecule, changing the wavelength - and thus the color - of the light emitted by the mechanophore. Once these molecules have radically changed their structure in response to this force, it is extremely difficult to return to the initial situation. While these mechanophores are useful to understand the mechanical properties of an item or a material, they do not suit well for repeated exposure to mechanical stress.

To overcome this issue, Dr. Georgy Filonenko and Prof. Julia Khusnutdinova from the Coordination Chemistry and Catalysis Unit designed a photoluminescent mechanophore that retains its properties over time and under repeated incidences of mechanical stress. The researchers incorporated the stress-sensing molecule into a common polymer material called polyurethane, widely used for everyday items from mattresses and cushions to inflatable boats, car interiors, woodworking glue and even spandex.

The scientists then stretched the resulting material with increasing force, triggering a correspondingly brighter glow under an ultraviolet light. The reaction happens within hundreds of milliseconds, resulting in a up to two-fold increase in luminescence intensity. When the mechanical traction stops, the polymer material and the mechanophore reverse to their initial position, decreasing the light readout. This is critical as it allows for repeated applications of mechanical force.

This new mechanophore is a photoluminescent compound from recently published work by Dr. Filonenko and Prof. Khusnutdinova. Despite its very simple structure the compound is extremely responsive to the physical environment which has a direct impact on the color visible with the naked eye under a UV light. These molecules were incorporated directly within the repeated patterns of the polymer material.

The high mobility of the mechanophore molecules in the polymer was found to be the key to the sensor performance. As mechanophores moved rapidly in the relaxed polymer sample, the brightness of emission was low due to these molecular motions preventing the mechanophore from emitting light. However, subjecting the material to mechanical force effectively slowed down the polymer chain motions, enabling the mechanophore to emit light more efficiently.

"Our material shows how a macroscopic force, as basic as stretching a flexible strand of material, can efficiently trigger microscopic changes all the way down to isolated molecules," commented Dr. Filonenko.

Facts, background information, dossiers
More about OIST
  • News

    Let it glow

    Chemical compounds that emit light are used in a variety of different materials, from glow-in-the-dark children's toys to LED lights to light-emitting sensors. As the demand for these compounds increases, finding new efficient methods for their production is essential. New research from the ... more

    Micro-bubbles and frequency combs

    When measuring the duration of high-speed physical phenomena, a good stopwatch can only get you so far, and while oscilloscopes can pick up electrical signals with frequencies of a few GHz, measuring incredibly fast optical phenomena requires something more--a system called an optical frequ ... more

    Supercool electrons

    The future of quantum computing is a hot topic not only for experts but also in many commercial and governmental agencies. Rather than processing and storing information as bits in transistors or memories, which limit information to the binary '1' or '0', quantum computers would instead use ... more

Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE