Nanotube fluorescence shows large, predictable wavelength shifts when the tubes are deformed by tension or compression. The paint — and therefore each nanotube, about 50,000 times thinner than a human hair — would suffer the same strain as the surface it's painted on and give a clear picture of what's happening underneath.
Another week and another new use for graphene, with a fast track use to commercialisation in important industries. Rice University’s “strain paint” won’t necessarily make metal fatigue a thing of the past, just the consequences of metal fatigue a thing of the past. While further development to optimise composition, preparation and application still lie ahead, according to the scientists “none of those problems seem insurmountable, he said, and construction of a handheld optical strain reader should be relatively straightforward. "There are already quite compact infrared spectrometers that could be battery-operated," Weisman said. "Miniature lasers and optics are also readily available. So it wouldn't require the invention of new technologies, just combining components that already exist.”
My guess is that industry will be quick to adopt this new development, and that this is a this-decade to market advance rather than a next-decade commercial development.
Nano-Infused Paint Can Detect Strain
ScienceDaily (June 21, 2012) — A new type of paint made with carbon nanotubes at Rice University can help detect strain in buildings, bridges and airplanes.
The Rice scientists call their mixture "strain paint" and are hopeful it can help detect deformations in structures like airplane wings. Their study, published online this month by the American Chemical Society journal Nano Letters details a composite coating they invented that could be read by a handheld infrared spectrometer.
This method could tell where a material is showing signs of deformation well before the effects become visible to the naked eye, and without touching the structure. The researchers said this provides a big advantage over conventional strain gauges, which must be physically connected to their read-out devices. In addition, the nanotube-based system could measure strain at any location and along any direction.