Futuristic Spy Tech Self-Destructs in Sunlight | SciShow News
Articles,  Blog

Futuristic Spy Tech Self-Destructs in Sunlight | SciShow News

[ ♪INTRO ] It’s basically right out of a spy movie:
a glider swoops into enemy territory at night, lands with some sort of secret message or
item, and then vanishes without a trace in the pink light of dawn. “Now where did this come from?” our unwitting villain says, bending down to
pick it up… Okay, okay, I might be getting overexcited. But as of this week, a disappearing plane
could really exist. At a meeting of the American Chemical Society,
researchers announced that they have created a material that vaporizes in sunlight. It’s all thanks to the incredible power
of chemistry. The material is a polymer known as polyphthalaldehyde
or PPHA. Polymers are like chains. They’re big molecules made up of many repeated
smaller units chemically bonded together. Each link in the chain is held together by
one or more chemical bonds, and under the right circumstances, those bonds start to
come apart and the whole chain can disintegrate. But when that happens is dependent on the
particular polymer and what’s known as its ceiling temperature. Below that, the polymer wants to stay a polymer. Above it, it will start to break down into
its component pieces, called monomers. For instance, good old polystyrene — sometimes
known as Styrofoam — has a very high ceiling temperature. Which is why the stuff hangs around in landfills
basically forever. PPHA has a low ceiling temperature. You break one bond at room temperature and
the whole thing breaks down almost instantly. So the challenging part is actually keeping
it from vanishing before you want it to. Luckily, the research team found a way to
remove more of the catalyst that helps build the polymer in the first place, which gives
it a much longer shelf life. They also used a cyclic version of PPHA rather
than a linear one, which is more stable because it doesn’t have any loose ends where the
unraveling process can start. And then… they just started experimenting. They added a light-sensitive compound to it
to get it to start the self-destruction process on cue. It produces a strong acid when it encounters
UV light, which then attacks the polymer’s bonds. Once one bond breaks, the PPHA has loose ends
again and disintegrates in 5 to 7 minutes — as long as the ambient temperature is
above PPHA’s ceiling temperature of -40˚C Then they found photosensitive catalysts that
worked at different wavelengths of light, so that indoor light or different colors could
be used to trigger the self-destruct. And they added a liquid plasticizer to the
material, so that they could have both rigid and bendy structures to build things with,
like, planes and parachutes. They even built in a time-delay function. By having the catalyst produce a weaker acid,
they found they could have a longer gap between light exposure and when the structure self-destructs. And they’re not done yet! While PPHA itself vaporizes completely, the
plasticizer does leave behind a liquid residue, so that’s something the team is working
on solving. The researchers also hope that the materials
can be used for all sorts of purposes in the future, like no-waste sensors for environmental
monitoring. So they’re going to keep tinkering to see
what other kinds of special features they can build into their PPHA. Speaking of things that sound made up by Hollywood,
scientists can apparently doll out night vision now. Using nanoparticles! Injected into your eyes! Well, not your eyes. Not quite yet. But scientists have given infrared supervision
to mice, and according to a talk they gave at the American Chemical Society meeting this
week, they are interested in doing it with other mammals and maybe, someday, with people. Without night-vision goggles, mammals can
only see light in what’s known as the visible spectrum — wavelengths of about 400 to 700
nanometers. Near-infrared light is beyond the red end
of the spectrum. And it’s what night-vision goggles that
use thermal imaging look for, because it’s emitted by warm objects. That means that if we could see it, it would
let us see things that give off heat even in total darkness. So, to make infrared light visible to us,
the researchers developed specialized nanoparticles known as upconversion nanoparticles or UCNPs,
which had a core made mostly of the rare-earth elements erbium and ytterbium. When these elements absorb infrared light,
they emit visible green light, basically converting the invisible light into something mammalian
brains can make sense of. The team got these nanoparticles to stick
to light-sensing cells by adding a protein that attaches to certain sugars. Then, all they had to do was inject the nanoparticles
into the eyes of their mouse test subjects. Ten weeks later, the mice weren’t just fine
— they could see near-infrared light. For example, mice trained to expect a shock
when they saw green light would also freeze when they saw infrared light because the nanoparticles
were converting it to green light inside of their eyeballs. And in a swimming task, mice with the infrared
vision were able to locate a platform they could stand on in the dark. Mice without the UCNPs couldn’t find it. Now, exciting as all that is, we’re probably
still a ways away from injecting this stuff into human retinas. But! The researchers have made steps towards making
them more human-friendly, including finding an organic substitution for the rare-earth
elements in the UCNPs. These don’t only make the nanoparticles
a bit more biocompatible, they also improve the tech by making the transformed light brighter. And in addition to basically giving people
superpowers, the researchers also imagine the tech being used to deliver infrared-triggered
doses of medication directly to the photoreceptors of the eye. But there are a lot of regulatory hurdles
that would need to be cleared before we get there. For now, I guess we’ll all just have to
be jealous of these mice. It’s like maybe the one time being our favorite
lab animals has really paid off for them, so… let’s let them have this one. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
News! And especially thank you to today’s President
of Space, Matthew Brant. Matthew, we really appreciate your continued
support! In fact, here’s a special space salute! And thank you to all our other patrons, too. If you’re not one of those people, but you
think what we do on this channel is pretty great and want to help us keep doing it, you
can learn more about becoming one of our patrons at Patreon.com/SciShow. [ ♪OUTRO ]


  • Saosaq Ii

    Imagine if the self destruction polymer is used to kill parachuters, swap out the parachute with your special murder one and boom they die with a splat.

  • D. Lawrence Miller

    Human night vision achieved by putting a chemical in your eye is a milestone science has already hit! It's just very risky and not something you can just buy. https://io9.gizmodo.com/this-biohacker-used-eyedrops-to-give-himself-temporary-1694016390

  • MakeMeThinkAgain

    So wouldn't anything made of that first plastic have to be manufactured and stored in the dark? I can imagine some problems there.

  • Eloi Mumford

    Hum , pretty interesting , could you explore their use in counter-measures ? Like absorbing
    ir in the 900nm range = police laser .

  • Mercury M-7

    I don’t know how you do it Nathan… Sacrificing your intelligence for money just so you can gain a few bucks from the STUPID. 😂 Good-lord you are DUMB.

  • Phoebus7238

    the infrared eye thing is definitely going to get tested on humans covertly and you know it. this could save the military so much money by not having to have all these other items like goggles or binoculars and stuff

  • reborn_silence

    It would be cool if it was possible to see heat as a new colour. I would love to see a new colour. I'm planning on raising my kids without the colour green so I can show it to them when they're adults just to see their reaction

  • mooseguy547

    When I saw the graphic that said “Infrared supervision”, I thought of supervision in terms of someone else supervising you. Haha it took longer than I would care to admit to put that together

  • Kshitij Sharma

    So this polymer PPHA is an anhydride of organic acids with structure similar to pthalic anhydride so I guess it can go under hydrolisis to form organic acids so it is water soluble too

  • RD Bury

    The oceans are covered in floating plastic waste and THIS is what scientists are working on? How about plastics that disintegrate in seawater?

  • Darren Bauer

    Could they spin that plastic into cloth, like bathing suit fabric? Purely for the joke value, of course. Not in a pervy way…

  • Calvin Odbert

    Sign me up please, and correction this is the second time being our favourite lab animal has paid off for them. Have you forgotten the time we gave them as much cocaine and sex as they wanted?

  • Igabod Dobagi

    The infravision excites me way more than I expected. I can't wait for this to be perfected and approved for human use. It could be the catalyst that propels us into our next stage of evolution.

  • David T

    Light degrading material is old Tech: Daedalus and Icarus experimented with the technology thousands of years ago. It didn't go well at all…

  • US

    The second story about people having night vision brings to mind someone looking like Riddick.
    Getting eye Shine:

  • adinserter

    Mentioning SPY movie, please view the video I have attached the link to. I really appreciate the knowledge you give me and think the knowledge in the link I've added is really important and necessary. Feel free to reply please. https://youtu.be/IFxRpX4T_V4

  • K1naku5ana3R1ka

    As for the night vission nanoparticles, why not try sticking them in a contact lens or such before we do anything more permanent with our eyes?

  • Ben Goodwin

    Whoa, I want that infrared vision thing, but maybe only in one eye so I can tell the difference between what’s there and what’s not

  • SobeCrunkMonster

    We would be ENVIOUS of the mice, NOT JEALOUS, why am i the only person on earth that doesnt constantly misuse the word jealous? Everyone does it every time.

  • Noah Spurrier

    Night vision goggles that use thermal imaging do not look for near infrared; they see FAR infrared. Near infrared is MUCH higher frequency than the far infrared seen by thermal imaging cameras. Near infrared is closer to visible light than it is to far infrared. Near infrared isn’t very mysterious. It isn’t associated with heat unless that heat is just below the temperature of a red hot iron.

    Note that there are night vision goggles based on “image intensifier” tubes, which do amplify near IR as well as visible. These devices do not require extra spotlights. They can amplify the ambient light even from starlight, but they do need at least some light. They can’t work in complete darkness. They can’t see “heat”. Thermal imaging sensors can see where even image intensifiers can’t because even in apparent complete darkness things around room temperature glow in the far infrared. Cameras that see in the far infrared are true “thermal” cameras. They aren’t necessarily “night vision” because they work fine in day light, too. They don’t care about visible light at all. They don’t even work like normal cameras with lenses. The sensors are completely different than the technology in most camera sensors. Far IR sensors are actually arrays of tiny thermometers (microbolometer) where each thermometer measures the tiny change in temperature when warmed slightly by far infrared light. As an aside non-contact infrared thermometers use the same sensor principle (the LASER does nothing but show you where the sensor is looking). The older thermal cameras all required liquid nitrogen cooling in order to prevent the ambient heat of the body of the camera itself from blinding the sensors. Newer units can operate without expensive cooling, but the most sensitive units still require cooling. But even the lower performance sensors now available still cost a few hundred dollars. FLIR is the best known brand.

    Most security cameras or consumer grade “night vision” cameras do not use special “thermal” or “night vision” sensors. These sensors can now sell for under a dollar. They use exactly the same CMOS or CCD sensors used in consumer cameras. These sensors are already able to see near infrared. In fact, most cameras add a filter to block near IR. The security cameras that have “night vision” mode actually can’t even see at night. They have a little IR spotlight to light up these scene at night. They could just as well use a visible white spotlight. There is nothing special about near IR at night. They only reason they use infrared spotlights is because people don’t want visible spotlights on at night like a prison camp. But don’t be fooled; the cameras are lighting up the scene with light bright enough that you could read by it if you could see near infrared. So these cameras aren’t really special. You can turn most cameras into near IR cameras simply by taking them apart and removing the filter. Security cameras have a movable filter that is automatically moved aside when the camera wants to go into “night vision” mode. You can sometimes hear them click softly as they switch out the filter. They also switch on Infrared LED lights. You can often see these glowing a dim visible red, but in the near infrared range they are super bright. They’d be too bright to look at if you could see them 😉

  • Mike Kennedy

    You made a significant mistake that many people who do that don’t understand infrared light. You said it would allow the mice to see infrared given off by heated objects. No it can’t. The particles are in an eye that is heated up to the mouse’s body temperature. If the particles turn the infrared given off by heat it eye would be useless because the heat of the eyes would activate all of them all the time. As per your examples, the infrared light was reflected from objects not generated by them. This still would be extremely useful, but it isn’t the part of the infrared spectrum that includes the wavelengths given off by heated objects. If you research this more thoughts you will agree with me.

  • Evil Sharkey

    Those are some rather mean lab tests. First, the mice get eyeball shots (presumably while under so they don’t move or feel it). Then they get unavoidable shocks cued to a light or thrown in water in the dark to see if they could find a platform. What sadist designed those experiments?Couldn’t those same experiments be designed to get a response from positive expectations, like treats being given after lights blink or finding a button that gives food in the dark.

  • WormholeJim

    Suggestion for an alternate, albeight less spectacular and sensational title: "Defense industry accidentally saves envionment from plastic plague."

  • Thomas PC

    So if infrared shows as green, you can see great at night. But, what happens when you got out into the bright sunlight during the day when you usually can see lots of colors but there is much more infrared light as well? Would everything be awashed with a green haze?

  • Russell whisenant

    “It's like the one time being our favorite lab animals has really paid off for them: so let's let them have this one.”. That is definitely the funniest thing I've heard today. I love the show.

  • Jason Overman

    What if- they get the self vaporizing technique to where at the very least all that's left behind isn't harmful to both people and the environment, could be collected and disposed of safely and is set to destruct to something like a very specific light spectrum to prevent accidental self destruction. Now replace plastic, styrofoam and whatever else with it. Create a container that you can place this said material into that's installed with the specific light and at the push of a button it's vaporized and the left over residue is collected and stored until it can be taken to a collection site.

  • Levi Hinsen

    Because gaining the ability to see infrared light will definitely save lives. These idiots are torturing animals like toys just so they can drool over a useless artificial ability? I get experimenting on mice for medicine and vaccines but there is a line between what we need and what we want.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *