Souped Up Paint That Makes Air Flow Glow

A new paint that glows brightly in response to air-pressure changes could replace the complex and costly network of tiny sensors now used in wind-tunnel tests of aircraft, says James Callis, a chemistry professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.

According to Callis, the key to this pressure-sensitive paint is that it contains so-called platinum porphyrin molecules. When hit with high-energy blue light, these molecules absorb energy and then release it in the form of pinkish-red light. Oxygen in the air absorbs some of this energy, reducing the amount the porphyrins emit as light. And the less oxygen there is--say, in a low-pressure region above a wing--the brighter the paint glows. A television camera records the emission pattern, letting designers visualize air flow around an aircraft.

Boeing Co. plans to use the paint in tests of its next generation of planes. And Callis says carmakers are interested in the technology for their aerodynamic tests.

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