Researchers Use Squid Protein To Create High-Tech Camouflage
September 11, 2013

Researchers Use Squid Protein To Create High-Tech Camouflage

[ Watch the Video: Camouflage Coating Modeled After Squids ]

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

In another instance of technology inspired by nature, researchers from the University of California Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering say they’ve created a camouflage coating modeled after the Pencil Squid. This development, say the researchers, could one day be particularly useful to the US Military.

Using a protein modeled after that found in a squid’s skin, the engineering team have developed a thin film that can change colors and reflectance when viewed through an infrared camera. The camo-film they’ve created is exceptionally thin -- about 100,000 times thinner than human hair -- and can be switched on and off with a chemical signal. In tests, the UC Irvine engineers successfully changed the color of the film from orange to green to match its surroundings.

Alon Gorodetsky, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at UC Irvine led the research. A detailed study about this new technique is published online in the journal Advanced Materials.

“Our approach is simple and compatible with a wide array of surfaces, potentially allowing many simple objects to acquire camouflage capabilities,” explained Gorodetsky in a statement. “Our long-term goal is to create fabrics that can dynamically alter their texture and color to adapt to their environments. Basically, we’re seeking to make shape-shifting clothing – the stuff of science fiction – a reality.”

To create their camouflage material, Gorodetsky and team first produced a protein appropriately called reflectin. This structural protein is essential to a squid’s ability to not only change colors to match its surroundings, but also reflect light to make it appear nearly invisible. With reflectin in hand, the UC Irvine team implanted it into thin sheets of graphene -- a material made of carbon atoms that is incredibly thin and, most importantly, is quite conductive, meaning chemical and electrical signals can be carried through it.

When a chemical switch is flipped, the protein goes to work throughout the graphene and, when viewed through night vision goggles or some other infrared camera, whatever is covered in the graphene sheet blends into its surroundings. As the reflectin can also be triggered by humidity, future iterations of this material could be switched to go into invisibility mode at night when humidity is typically at its highest.

Though there’s no mention of working directly with the military for this project, this material could prove particularly useful to the armed forces. Anything covered in this material only appears invisible when viewed through an infrared camera, but this shouldn’t be an issue as military forces use these cameras regularly. Even when viewed at a distance through these cameras, the camouflage material is capable of hiding anything it covers.

According to PopSci, the military has been looking to replicate the camouflage properties of squid since 2009 and have given millions of dollars in grants to scientists to develop this kind of technology.