Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are in the process of developing synthetic material that changes color and texture much like an octopus. The synthetic skin mimics the camouflage ability of cephalopods, such as cuttlefish and squids, and could be used for military uniforms or in screens.
The synthetic material can change color and texture at the same time via remote control, notes MIT. The material can blend into its surroundings in just a matter of seconds. “It changes its fluorescence and texture together, in response to a change in voltage applied to it -- essentially, changing at the flip of a switch,” said Qiming Wang, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT and first author of the study, in a statement.
The material, an elastic polymer, gets its inspiration from the process cephalopods use to change color and texture. Squids, cuttlefish and octopi use muscle contractions to change the shape of pigment sacs located in the skin, notes MIT. Instead of using muscles to achieve the camouflage ability, the researchers use electricity. “The texturing and deformation of the elastomer further activates special mechanically responsive molecules embedded in the elastomer, which causes it to fluoresce or change color in response to voltage changes,” co-lead author Stephen Craig, formerly of Duke University and currently at MIT, said in a statement.
Currently, the synthetic squid skin is in the proof-of-concept phase and can only change into a few colors but the study’s co-lead researcher Xuanhe Zhao, MIT Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, said a broader color palette can be achieved easily enough throughout the material’s development.
The material can be easily manufactured and developed for military use or adapted for use in display screens, notes MIT.
Invisibility, or camouflage, has been the subject of much study and public interest. Cloaking ability has been limited to radar invisibility, including the use of an electromagnetic field to deflect radio waves. Other researchers from Harvard University and the Marine Biological Laboratory are also exploring the cuttlefish’s camouflage ability to develop new military uniforms.
The team's research was published in the journal Nature Communications. A video of the synthetic squid skin in action can be viewed below.