Solar UV index and UV dose determination with photochromic hackmanites: from the assessment of the fundamental properties to the device†
Extended exposure to sunlight or artificial UV sources is a major cause of serious skin and eye diseases such as cancer. There is thus a great need for convenient materials for the easy monitoring of UV doses. While organic photochromic molecules are tunable for responses under different wavelengths of UV radiation, they suffer from rather poor durability because the color changes involve drastic changes in molecular structure. Inorganic materials, on the other hand, are durable, but they have lacked tunability. Here, by combining computational and empirical data, we confirm the mechanism of coloration in the hackmanites, nature-based materials, and introduce a new technique called thermotenebrescence. With knowledge of the mechanism, we show that we can control and thus tune the energy of electronic states of synthetic hackmanites (Na,M)8Al6Si6O24(Cl,S)2 so that their body color is sensitive to the solar UV index as well as UVA, UVB or UVC radiation levels. Finally, we demonstrate that it is possible to use images taken with an inexpensive cell phone to quantify the radiation dose or UV index. The hackmanite materials thus show great potential for use in portable healthcare both in everyday life and in laboratories.