Researchers in Germany have developed new color-changing gloves designed to alert lab workers to the presence of invisible toxic chemicals. Created by scientists at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Regensburg, the protective gloves are embedded with a special dye that turns blue whenever toxic substances are in the air.

The idea, researchers say, is to provide scientists or factory workers with a simple and straightforward alert system. The gloves could also provide a more energy efficient alternative to the heat imaging systems or electronic sensors currently used to detect airborne toxins. Dr. Sabine Trupp, head of the Fraunhofer EMFT Sensor Materials group, says the dye's composition could be tweaked to detect different substances, noting that the technology has a potentially vast array of applications.

A world of possibilities

"By synthesizing the adapted color sensor materials, we can detect gases like carbon monoxide, for example, or hydrogen sulfide," Trupp said in a press release published this week. "Still, this protective gear represents only one potential area of application. Sensor materials could also be deployed for the quick detection of leaks in gas lines."

The primary challenge researchers faced was figuring out a way to integrate the dye such that it wouldn't disintegrate or dilute when washed. It's not clear if the gloves will see a wide deployment anytime soon, but Trupp and her colleagues are already envisioning new ways they could be used. An integrated sensor module, for example, could keep track of chemical exposure over extended periods, while similar systems could be used in food packaging materials, providing a clearer way to identify spoiled or rotten groceries.