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Molecule turns red at breaking point

Materials hosting the right chemical may offer a colorful signal of stress

12:55pm, May 6, 2009

Engineers one day may not have to guess when a bridge is about to break. New materials that flush red in response to damage may provide a visible warning sign of trouble to come, scientists report in the May 7 Nature.

“I think it could be a milestone,” says Christoph Weder, a polymer chemist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, who wrote a commentary in the same issue of Nature.

The materials’ chameleon-like abilities are thanks to a small four-ringed molecule called a mechanophore. When the weakest bond in the mechanophore breaks, the molecule create

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