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January 2nd, 2013
In the fridge of the future, we won't be looking for "Use By" or "Best Before" dates. We will be able to tell whether food is fresh, or has turned for the worse, with a quick visual inspection of the fridge. In-mould labels made from a photonic gel will change colour when exposed to chemicals associated with a foodstuff going off. So we will have an instant visual warning if our food's gone bad.
This is just one of many applications for a novel, extremely thin colour-changing films that have been developed by materials scientists at Rice University in Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), both in the US. The research has been published in the nanotechnology journal of the American Chemical Society, ACS Nano.
Leading the project is Ned Thomas, Dean of Rice University's George R.Brown School of Engineering (and formerly chair of the department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT). Thomas and his team have combined polymers into a self-assembled metamaterial that changes colour when exposed to ions dissolved in solution - or ions in the environment at large. The material changes colour according to the ions' ability to penetrate the hydrophilic layers.
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