It’s That Time of Year for Things That Glow

Anyone who designs for Halloween, whether you are a professional commercial costume designer or designing for your personal ghosts and goblins will understand how challenging it can be to find the perfect light-emitting product to put on a costume.

There are many options out there, but one that crossed my desk recently was this nifty new luminescent plastic from Dutch scientists at the University of Technology Eindhoven (TU/e) in The Netherlands.  The plastic (with no catchy tradename as yet) differs from glow sticks and other products out there because of the addition of a molecular ring called dioxetane into the base polymer molecule.

When the physical item made of the new polymer is pulled, it causes the dioxetane molecules to break, releasing energy seen as light. If the plastic is pulled hard enough to rip it apart, a flash of light is seen as all of the dioxetane molecular rings release their energy at once.

While this is all wickedly cool, and of course has some immediate applications where you want to see if something is being stressed or torn, it’s really a one-use substance at the moment. The rings don’t ‘heal’ themselves when the tension is removed from the polymer.  However, for a performance gear company that conducts tests on their products as part of the product development process, this new material could have interesting applications to see where tension/stress points are.

You could literally see the tension areas glowing. Likewise, any sort of product that is developed where the designer wants to see tension points (for example, denim wear, trousers, lingerie) would benefit from having a fit sample made up of this material. I would have loved to have had fit gloves made up of this stuff when Iw as challenging and changing our size standard. Instead of relying on qualitative and subjective feedback from my fit models (how does that feel?) as part of the process, I could immediately see whether or not a glove fit correctly and accurately.

Want to read more about this rather cool new chemical? Check out the scientific article: ‘Mechanically induced chemiluminescence from polymers incorporating a 1,2-dioxetane unit in the main chain’ verscheen op 27 May als ‘advanced online publication’ bij Nature Chemistry (doi: 10.1038/NCHEM.1358). Authors Yulan Chen, Jolanda Spiering, S. Karthikeyan, Gerrit Peters, Bert Meijer and Rint Sijbesma, all TU Eindhoven.