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Austrian Researchers Develop Sensor Dyes

Laboratory coats which can change color and warn people of poisonous gases, bandaging materials which show that the patient has an infection and bath gloves which detect chemical additives in bathwater are potential examples of intelligent textiles which can show dangers in different colors, and thus contribute to achieving greater occupational safety.

The dyes were researched and produced by Joanneum Research in Weiz, according to a report published by the Austrian Press Agency.


Sensor textiles as a warning signal. A sensor glove turns blue in the presence of a hazardous substance. Photo: Fraunhofer.

Joanneum Research (JR) produces indicator dyes for textiles showing chemical or biological reactions by means of fluorescence or color changes as part of its contribution to the “Sensor Systems Research Group” of Materials, the Institute for Surface Technology and Photonics. More specifically this means, that a laboratory coat remains blue without any contact with a toxic substance. After coming into contact with the hazardous substance, the coat turns red and thus warns the person wearing it of a poisonous gas. The sensor dye is applied to the coat by bathing it in a watery dye solution.

No health risks

The textiles treated in this way do not pose any health risks to the people wearing them, due to the fact that the dye is stably bonded and is not washed out. “We can produce sensor dyes in line with the specific needs of a customer. This means the dye must be able to specifically recognize a hazardous substance, adjust to the quality of the original textile and stably adhere to the textile. In addition, we can also offer customized optical measuring instruments which make it possible to provide precise information on the concentration of the particular discussed”, says  Gerhard Mohr, Project Manager and expert on sensor textiles.

Sensor textiles show poisonous gases or liquids such as carbon monoxide, ammonia or strong acids, but are also used in the field of skin hygiene or environmental compatible hygiene. They can be used to test the pH level, for example in the bathwater of babies. For example, if the baby bath glove changes its color from green to red, this could mean that the wrong soap or too much of it is in the bathtub. Healthy skin can withstand alkaline cleaning agents, but sensitive baby skin or allergic skin often reacts by developing skin irritations. The next step planned by the research group is the marketable conversion of its special know-how into intelligent products in collaboration with business partners.