In the world of ocean life, the cuttlefish is the king of camouflage. The cuttlefish’s ability to disguise itself, becoming virtually invisible to the naked eye, is an amazing quality that is very difficult to engineer. But with a little inspiration from marine animal, engineers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have developed a design that mimics patters and textures in a flash.
Within seconds of light exposure, the new structure begins to replicate color and texture of the surrounding environment. While engineers have developed camouflaging materials before, this new design responds to much lower-intensity light and at faster rates than the few predecessors that exist.
“This is a relatively new community of research,” said Li Tan, associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering. “Most of the people (in it) are inspired by the cuttlefish, whose skin changes color and texture, as well.”
While engineering a material to shift color may not be outwardly difficult, getting it to change texture is much harder. This new development has the ability to do both.
The novel structure is threefold. The base insulates against heat, the middle layer absorbs light, and the top consists of either a liquid or a solid.
This from UNL:
When a moderately intense laser strikes the middle layer, it begins warming any pixels that absorb it—that is, those that don’t share the light’s color. Through the process of convection, these localized increases in temperature trigger ruptures along the surface of the top layer or volcano-like eruptions within it.
However, the camouflage application of the development won’t hit the mainstream for a while. The more immediate applications of the development include accelerating the accumulation of cells and facilitating the growth of biological tissue.