Color-changing inks respond to the environment

Story highlights

  • The Unseen makes materials printed with inks that change color with environmental changes
  • Inks respond to changes in light, temperature, moisture

London (CNN)She calls herself a "material alchemist" and when she describes her work, she invokes both science and magic.

Lauren Bowker is the founder of The Unseen, a London design house whose creations have been exhibited in art, design and science museums around the world, from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
It specializes in creating materials printed with inks that change color with fluctuations in light, temperature, moisture, pressure -- and even the user's emotions.
    The inks are applied to clothes and accessories, as well as more functional items like bandages and seat belts.

    'The language of color'

    "Essentially what we do here at the Unseen is to visualize data through the language of color -- from leather that can change color (in response) to environmental fluctuations, to a car paint or concrete that can tell you your carbon emission level, to a headpiece that can help you understand more about your brain and the chemical fluxes from it by informing you through a simple color change," Bowker told CNN.
    Bowker began developing color-changing compounds while earning her Masters in textiles at London's Royal College of Art, inspired by her own debilitating spinal condition.
    This headpiece, made of 4000 conductive Swarovski stones, changes color to correspond with localized brain activity.
    "I really want to create a product range for myself that means that I can monitor my spine and condition," she told CNN in a previous interview.
    The designer worked with the UK's National Health Service on responsive bandages early in her career but she was disappointed by the slow development time.
    "I just thought there's got to be a quicker or more profitable way to do this, rather than doing this in pure research," Bowker said. "(The purpose of The Unseen) was a strategic plan so we can create products that help people in their daily lives."
    But that doesn't mean its creations can't be beautiful -- and they often are. At its heart is the idea that color can convey more than just emotion.
    "Color is such a universal language that often is used unintelligently," Bowker said.
    She's trying to change that.