Issue 22, 2021

Thermoresponsive icy road sign by light scattering and enhanced fluorescence


Prototypes of flexible, electricity-free, ice warning signs for roads and pavements have been developed. A temperature triggered response in the form of an upper critical solution temperature (UCST) type phase separation targeted near the freezing point of water manifests itself through light scattering as a clear-to-opaque transition. It is simultaneously amplified by an enhanced photoluminescence effect. The conceptual road sign application is a multi-lamellar flexible strip with an active layer of a polystyrene-based solution. The solvent is a plasticizer, here either dioctyl phthalate (DOP) or its alternative 1,2-cyclohexane dicarboxylic acid diisononyl ester (DINCH). A collection of styrene-based macromolecules were made by free radical (co)polymerization, varying molecular weight and monomer feed composition. UCST-type phase diagrams for the polymer solutions were constructed from cloud point data measured with a bespoke photographic set-up, in which up to 30 samples were analyzed simultaneously monitoring both light scattering, in the form of opacity measurements, and fluorescence. For the latter, the concept of restricted motion enhanced photoluminescence, often referred to as aggregation-induced emission (AIE), was used. Polystyrene labelled with tetraphenylethylene (TPE) was used for this. The contrast between ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ states in the conceptual ice warning signs was optimized by tuning the polymer concentration and the active layer thickness. Our prototype signs show full reversibility over many temperature cycles. We believe the concept can be of wider use in electricity-free signs and labels.

Graphical abstract: Thermoresponsive icy road sign by light scattering and enhanced fluorescence

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
15 Mar 2021
13 May 2021
First published
14 May 2021
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

J. Mater. Chem. C, 2021,9, 7174-7185

Thermoresponsive icy road sign by light scattering and enhanced fluorescence

J. R. Booth, R. A. Young, A. N. Richards Gonzales, Z. J. Meakin, C. M. Preuss-Weber, R. W. Jaggers and S. A. F. Bon, J. Mater. Chem. C, 2021, 9, 7174 DOI: 10.1039/D1TC01189H

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