Featured Stories | September 18, 2014

Bio-inspired by octopus camouflage [Video]

By Genevieve Wanucha

The cephalopod’s ability to change skin color and texture with the twitch of a muscle has inspired MIT Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Xuanhe Zhao to create a material that mimics the tentacled talent. In a research study published in the journal Nature Communications,  Zhao and Duke University Professor of Chemistry Stephen Craig, describe their creation of a stretchy polymer material that reacts to an external electric voltage. At an electrical zap, the surface of the material transforms from smooth and colorless to bumpy, blue, fluorescent. The process of using electricity to dynamically change surface textures of elastomers is an application of a physical phenomenon that Zhao’s lab, then at Duke University, discovered in 2011.

The authors say that their shape-shifting material could be used to create the next generation of camouflage military uniforms and cell phone displays. Also, this kind of material would make excellent anti-fouling coating for ships and fishing equipment, where the accumulation of barnacles and other invertebrates lessens the efficiency of a ship’s propulsion and leads to marine invasions of non-native species.

Check out this video by MIT News, along with the companion feature story, How to Hide like an Octopus and the Washington Post’s coverage of this research, Camouflage that changes color and texture instantly, thanks to squid skin.