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Home > Press > A quantum material-based diagnostic paint to sense problems before structural failure

Caption: Illustration used to visualize how compressive and tensile strain can change the emission wavelength of the quantum dots.
Caption: Illustration used to visualize how compressive and tensile strain can change the emission wavelength of the quantum dots.

Abstract:
Imagine sometime in the near future the ability to quickly scan over airframes with a novel optical technique to measure their strain (deformation) in order to ensure they are ready for flight. Maintenance technicians would only need to look at a screen that displays a 2D surface map of the strain, similar to how thermal cameras are used by firefighters to find people within a burning building. This is made possible by using a nanomaterial-based paint which can be applied as a thin coating to areas of interest. The nanomaterials in this application are called colloidal quantum dots.

A quantum material-based diagnostic paint to sense problems before structural failure

Wright-Patterson AFB, OH | Posted on October 23rd, 2020

These are the same nanomaterials used for your QLED TV displays, except impregnated within a polymer to be used as a paint. These quantum dots emit a specific wavelength of light when excited by a higher energy incident light (usually ultraviolet). What is great about using quantum dots is that they are not only used for displays, but also have use in the following applications (not an exhaustive list): qubits used in quantum computing, measuring temperature, sensing radiation, measuring strain, and measuring strong magnetic fields. Tying this back to the initial story laid out to the reader, the strain sensing property aspect of quantum dots is used for its potential in non-destructive testing and evaluation. When quantum dots are strained, they emit a different wavelength (illustrated above).

A camera consisting of a device that can measure incoming wavelengths (spectrometer) can then be used to measure the changes of wavelength which in turn can be used to measure the change in strain.

Researchers at both the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) recently published a paper in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Applied Materials & Interfaces journal concerning the strain-sensing concept using a colloidal quantum dot-based paint. In addition, they have demonstrated their paint in tandem with an epoxy pre-coating that helps keep the paint adhered to a smooth surface.

This strain-sensing nanomaterial paint has limitless implications for realistic applications such as: aircraft, ships, ground vehicles, trains, bridges, buildings, and much more. The team envisions their patent pending nanomaterial-based paint’s near-term use would be in quality assurance for the above-mentioned applications. Eventually as the technology is further developed and characterized to ensure reliability, it can be used directly on operational systems.

This leads right into the exciting future where maintenance technicians can quickly scan over their respective vehicle systems. The benefits for both the Department of the Defense and the civilian sector are many: reduce human error, fast scanning across any surface that the paint adheres to, and the ability to characterize strain on complex 3D printed parts.

In addition, the military team members on the paper (1st Lt Michael Sherburne, 1st Lt Candice Mueller, and Major John Brewer) are also competing in the Air Force’s Spark Tank. Similar to Shark Tank, except as a platform for pitching innovative ideas where contestants can get senior leadership buy-in to further develop and implement their solutions. They have recently been selected as the top-2 in the Air Force Materials Command’s (AFMC) first ever Spark Tank and now proceed to the semifinals at the Air Force level.

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Contacts:
Michael Sherburne

Copyright © Air Force Institute of Technology

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