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Scientists create material that mimics adaptive squid skin

"Our ultimate goal is to create artificial skin that can mimic fast acting active camouflage," said researcher Aaron Fishman.

By Brooks Hays

BRISTOL, England, June 15 (UPI) -- Scientists often try to take what they see in nature and recreate it or apply it to their work in the laboratory. That's what researchers at the University of Bristol did in designing a smart material inspired by the camouflaging skin of a squid.

The skin of squids and other cephalopods is characterized by chromatophores, small embedded pigmented cells which can expand and contract to manipulate the skin's color and texture. Recent research showed that squid skin can actually sense its surroundings -- without the assistance of the brain -- and respond by adopting a new appearance.

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Material scientists at Bristol used this biological technology as a model to create camouflaging smart materials made of artificial chromatophores. The synthetic chromatophores are made of thin layers of dielectric elastomer, a soft, rubbery polymer that can be manipulated by pulses of electricity.

The new smart material enables scientists to recreate a patterning phenomenon used by real cephalopods called the "passing cloud" display. The pattern features bright bands of colors spreading out in waves across the skin; it's is employed as a way to distract and repel predators.

"Our ultimate goal is to create artificial skin that can mimic fast acting active camouflage and be used for smart clothing such as cloaking suits and dynamic illuminated clothing," lead researcher Aaron Fishman, a visiting fellow at Bristol, said in a press release.

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"The cloaking suit could be used to blend into a variety of environments, such as in the wild," Fishman said. "It could also be used for signalling purposes, for example search and rescue operations when people who are in danger need to stand out."

The researchers hope to further develop their smart material so that is is more dynamic and able to respond to different stimuli and produce a diversity of patterns.

The smart skin's development was recently detailed in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

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