Calamari Camouflage? Cephalopods Inspire Bio-tech Camo

Members of the military, hunters, and outdoor enthusiasts have long used camouflage clothing and gear in an effort to seamlessly blend in with their surroundings. Though the most popular and recognized camouflage pattern in the United States is the woodland pattern, there are a number of different designs, such as desert, arctic, and even naval camouflage. However, camouflage isn’t just for military personnel and hunters anymore.

In fact, Starbucks-toting, Louie Vuitton-wearing fashionistas have embraced the look of camouflage, and have made it their own. The hipsters have caught on, too. Just the term camouflage — derived from the French word camoufler, meaning to blind or disguise — sounds chic, and rolls off the tongue with ease and finesse. The irony? Camouflage allows fashionistas to stand out in the crowd, as oppose to blend in. Camouflage has become a fashion staple that’s here to stay.

However, a team of United States material scientists could care less about what fashionistas and hipsters are doing. They’re more concerned with what cephalopods — think squid and octopuses — are up to. Cephalopods are curious creatures. Aside from their intelligence and advanced problem-solving skills, they have the unique ability to instantly camouflage themselves from sight. It should come as no surprise that they have been inspiring biomimicry-led designs for years.

The team of scientists, led by Rice University’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP), is opting to create a new method of color display. Camouflaging “squid skin” — or metamaterial– as it is so aptly named, that has the ability to morph into background shades and textures automatically.

The group used aluminum nanoparticles to create a display technology that uses the exact same reds, blues, and greens you might see in LCD screens in electronics and mobile devices. Nearly 40 times smaller than the pixels used in standard LCDs, five-micron-square pixels deliver deep, rich color. Each contains a a few hundred aluminum nanorods, which act as a replacement for color dyes. Color dyes have a much shorter lifespan, and will fade and change over time.

The preferred material used by the Rice team to created color displays is aluminium — it’s cost effective and plentiful, and its compatible with methods already used. However, no one has been able to replicate the deep richness of color that cephalopods are able to achieve. The LANP team was able to remedy this by playing with the space between each nanorod and changing the individual lengths of each one.

The Rice team of scientist aren’t the only was inspired by cephalopods. A University of California Irvine team is working towards producing infrared camouflage to be used in stealth missions by soldiers using the very same protein cephalopods use — reflectin.

Both groups of scientists are hoping to combine this latest approach with other work focused on light-sensing pattern display. “We hope to eventually bring all of these technologies together to create a new material that can sense light in full colour and react with full-colour camouflage displays,” LANP director Naomi Halas stated in a press release.

The bottom line? Squids are in. They’re taking the camouflage trend to a whole new level.


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