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Smart Paint Signals Excessive Heat

Thursday, July 17, 2014

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New color-changing coating technology can warn when material or equipment is too hot to handle, signaling the possibility of malfunctions, explosions or burns, researchers say.

Referred to as "thermal-indicating composition," the material turns different shades of color from blue to red in response to a range of temperatures, starting at around 95°F, the New Jersey Institute of Technology announced.

The technology, which was awarded a U.S. patent in May, was developed in response to dangerous conditions in the desert during the war in Iraq, where soliders reported temperatures near munitions that exceeded 190°F—far exceeding the shells' design limits.

Zafar Iqbal

"We essentially modified commercial paints and introduced nanotechnology-based concepts to tailor the trigger temperatures," Zafar Iqbal (shown here), who led the research, explained.

The U.S. Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal commissioned and funded the research.

"It would have been helpful to have had some sort of a calibrated temperature-triggered signal warning, 'Don't go near or pick up this shell!'" said Zafar Iqbal, a research professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science who led the joint NJIT/ARDEC research team.

Adding a Time Element

"We essentially modified commercial paints and introduced nanotechnology-based concepts to tailor the trigger temperatures," Iqbal explained.

Iqbal has collaborated with the Army since 1969, and was a research scientist for the branch until 1977. His current research came out of earlier work at Honeywell and Allied Corp., where he was a senior principal scientist and project manager for nearly 20 years before joining NJIT.

His earlier work led to a "smart coating" embedded with color-sensitive materials to indicate how long something had been exposed to high temperatures. According to NJIT, this technology has been widely used by the World Health Organization on vaccine packaging labels.

Iqbal plans to use this time coding element in his thermal-indicating paints for the final product for the Army.

According to Iqbal, there hasn't been a cost-effective way to tell if munitions have experienced critical exposures, including over a days-long period.

Potential Applications

The technology has potential for other applications, including a temperature indicator for factory machines, household appliances and tools to signal that they have become too hot to use. The paint could also serve as a warning to firefighters as to the intensity of a fire on the other side of a door coated with the material.

The patent is jointly owned by NJIT and the U.S. Army. NJIT plans to commercialize the technology and said several corporations expressed interest in it at a recent expo.


The technology was developed in response to dangerous conditions in the desert during the war in Iraq, where soliders reported temperatures near munitions that exceeded 190°F—far exceeding the shells' design limits.

Iqbal said his laboratory is working on developing inks related to the paints that can be applied by inkjet printers. Iqbal is also working on a related technology that would indicate whether a product has been damaged by force, shock or exposure to dangerous chemicals.

"A smart coded coating is like a smart skin—it will provide a visual or sensing signal to tell you if there is a problem," he said.

Prior Research

Coatings research has been inspired by color changing technology in various ways in recent years.

Earlier this year, the University of California, Riverside, announced new nanoparticle research produced a polymer that can reveal pressure points by changing color. The sensor film can be painted on contact surfaces to show stress distribution.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, announced progress in 2013 in their attempts to develop camouflage coatings that could shift color properties when triggered by the user's surroundings.

Also in 2013, the University of Aveiro in Portugal developed a corrosion-sensing coating that incorporates nanocapsules that can indicate corrosion under coatings by changing color.


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; Exposure conditions; Nanotechnology; Research; Temperature; U.S. Army

Comment from MC Skinitis, (7/17/2014, 5:20 AM)

I marvel at the likes of great minds like Zafar Iqbal, and the teams that make these discoveries. Simply amazing and how lucky we are to have them in this great country we still call America!

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