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Switchable multifunctional materials for quantitative monitoring temperature, ambient, and liGth exposure

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Smart tags monitor thermal history of perishables

Smart materials, often called responsive or multifunctional materials, respond to changes in environmental stimuli. EU-funded researchers developed temperature-sensitive tags that could revolutionise the monitoring and safety of perishable products.

Digital Economy

Excessive and prolonged exposure of pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages to high temperatures can cause changes in the chemical makeup of such products making them dangerous for human consumption. To date, there is no technology incorporated in the packaging of perishable goods that enables producers and distributors to track the thermal exposure history of products throughout the supply chain. The ‘Switchable multifunctional materials for quantitative monitoring temperature, ambient, and light exposure’ (STAG) project was initiated to develop cost-effective and easy to use thermal tags for incorporation into packaging materials such as bottles, paper and caps for tracking the thermal history of packaged materials. The researchers focused on groups of organic molecular, supramolecular and polymeric materials to be integrated with thin films. The goal was to produce switching devices, in particular those that switch their states on exposure to above threshold temperatures and/or exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Using nanotechnology, the investigators studied materials whose changes in size, shape or motion indicate duration of exposure to perturbing agents, namely temperature or UV light. the STAG team successfully developed materials that act as irreversible thermal switches, including polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA), octacosane (a 28 carbon aliphatic hydrocarbon) and polyisobuthylene (PIB). Furthermore, they incorporated these materials into tags capable of high density information storage and sensitive to temperatures in the range of 50 to 70 degrees Celsius. The tag data was read by an optical device, essentially a digital camera, and transferred to a computer with a user friendly interface that decoded it for subsequent analysis. in summary, the STAG project produced thermal sensitive tags from smart materials to be incorporated into the packaging materials of perishable goods such as pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages. The tags, together with easy to use controlling software, have the potential to revolutionise safety monitoring and quality control of perishable goods throughout the supply chain with tremendous socioeconomic benefits for the EU economy and EU citizens.

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