Traumatic brain injury has been termed the "signature wound" of soldiers stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

To better detect it, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine along with the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have developed color-changing patches to immediately indicate the intensity of a blast. It will be easy for field medics to identify the change in color in badges worn by soldiers.

When a supersonic blast passes through a soldier's body, it leaves no visible wounds. A CT scan or MRI of the brain often appears normal. Soldiers, seemingly healthy, return to the field but are at risk for continued brain damage.

The light-weight "blast badges" aim to change that. Made of crystal, they are strong enough to withstand heat or impact. But when exposed to a shock wave, they break apart and change color.

Douglas Smith, the director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair, said putting the patches on helmets will immediately alert field medics and help identify a soldier who has been exposed to a blast.

"Because in the confusion of a battlefield, you may not identify them right away,"said Smith. "And then you want to not only bring them off the battlefield, you want to point them in the right direction for therapy.”

Smith said more soldiers are being exposed to improvised explosives. Sometimes a soldier may not know he or she has been harmed. But Smith said if a soldier can hear the blast, his or her brain will probably be affected.

Shu Yang, an associate professor of material science and engineering at Penn, helped develop the patches. She said the patches can be worn on more than just the helmet.

“The general concept is the soldier can wear it different places," she said. "Depending on how the crystal is changing color you can then have some indication of what kind of force the solider received on the body.”

Yang said by wearing the blast patch on different parts of the uniform, shock waves and how they spread on the field can be better examined.

These patches could be on uniforms within the next few years.