Self-reporting materials: protein-mediated visual indication of damage in a bulk polymer

Nico Bruns, Douglas S. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Damage self-reporting materials are able to indicate the presence of microscopic damaged regions by easy to detect signals, such as fluorescence. Therefore, these smart materials can reduce the risk of catastrophic failure of load-bearing components, e.g. in aerospace and construction applications. We highlight here our proof-of-concept paper and we present some additional data, which shows that proteins can be used as mechanophores in solid polymeric materials. Macroscopic mechanical forces were transferred from the polymer to the embedded proteins. The biomolecules act as molecular strain sensor, giving the material the desired selfreporting property. Poly(ethylene glycol) and poly(acrylamide) (PAAm) networks were doped with small amounts of thermsosome (THS), a protein cage from the family of chaperonins, that encapsulated a pair of fluorescent proteins. THS acts as a scaffold which brings the two fluorescent proteins into distance suitable for fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET). Moreover, THS can be distorted by mechanic forces so that the distance between the fluorescent proteins changes, leading to a change in FRET efficiency. Using the brittle PAAm as a model system, we were able to visualize microcracks in the polymers by FRET microscopy and by fluorescence lifetime imaging. THS also stabilizes the encapsulated guest proteins against thermal denaturation, increasing their half-live at 70 °C by a factor of 2.3.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-249
Number of pages5
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011


  • chaperonin
  • damage detection
  • hybrid materials
  • mechanophore
  • polymer


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