Gem of an idea! QUT team unveils jewellery that tells you to get out of the sun

Researchers at QUT have created jewellery that changes when exposed to UV light.

Researchers at QUT have created jewellery that changes when exposed to UV light. Photo: QUT

Designers and scientists at Queensland University of Technology have come together and created wearable UV-sensors, to help protect people from sun exposure.

The prototypes of the jewellery and accessories aim to alert people by using colour-changing technology that they have spent too much time in the sun.

The accessories are 3D printed out of photopolymer resin and are currently being tested by people aged 18 to 30-years-old.

QUT chemist Dr Nathan Boase, together with design researchers Dr Heather McKinnon and Dr Levi Swann, were together awarded a $56,000 QUT Early Career Researcher Grant to develop the sensor devices.

Speaking to The New Daily, Dr McKinnon explained while most people know to lather up with sunscreen when their heading out for a day on the beach, the day-to-day exposure might be overlooked.

“Basically, where we were trying to explore was this aspect of every day, sort of incidental UV exposure,” she said.

“A lot of the people that were in our workshops, they’re walking to uni or they’re waiting at the bus stop for half an hour and, you know, in Brisbane for most of the year you can just get sunburned that quickly.”

She explained many young adults the team spoke to were not protecting themselves from the sun on a daily basis, so the prototypes were born to help make people aware of the risk.

More sustainable approach

There are already stickers available that change colour to alert people to UV exposure.

Dr McKinnon said the stickers were a fantastic reminder for people who are spending a day in the sun, but her team wanted to make some more sustainable and something that can be used daily.

As a designer, she says its important for her to consider sustainability and reusability when bringing something new into existence.

“You have to think of the lifecycle of a new product, or anything new, that’s being being created,” she said, while adding the team behind the wearables still has some way to go in terms of playing with materials and 3D printing.

As Dr Boase noted, while stickers are great for children, it’s not something adults would wear in their day-to-day lives.

So, instead, we are making 3D printed jewellery and accessories that are appealing to all age groups to use and wear – and, importantly, that can be re-set and re-used to minimise waste,” he said in a QUT press release.

Pictured is the QUT research team

The research team wanted an affordable solution to alert people when they have been exposed to too much sun.

The items go from colourless to pink when exposed to UV rays.

They then change back, or reset, after being put under LED (green) light, ensuring they can be reused.

“It’s not hard to make something that will change colour after prolonged UV exposure … the tricky part is being able to reverse the colour change back again for reuse,” QUT’s  Dr Sandra Wiedbrauk said.

“Our switchable dye changes from colourless to pink when exposed to UV light, but can then switch back. We’ve picked a molecule that no-one seems to have worked with before.”

Affordability at the forefront

At this stage, the wearable designs are kind of just “ideas”, Dr McKinnon said, so there no indication how much they would retail for, should they hit the market.

However, QUT team wanted to make something that was an affordable alternative to other UV-sensing technology, like smart phones that alert people to sun exposure.

“Our sort of aim as researchers is to have something accessible, so more people can use it,” she said.

Their goal, was to address the problem of people being exposed to harmful UV rays and at this stage, the commercial aspect isn’t really being considered just yet.

Given the jewellery and accessories can be reused, this also means if the prototypes eventually are sold commercially, people will just have to purchase them once, opposed to repeatedly buying single-use alternatives.

While the project is still in its early stages and there is still work to be done, like fine-tuning the sensitivity, the research team is looking for partners who might be interested in helping to manufacture prototypes or exploring other ways the technology can be applied.

Topics: Australia
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