Scientists take inspiration from squids to create alternating materials

The materials transition from reflecting to transmitting visible and infrared wavelengths by shifting from wrinkly to cracked.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Representational image of a squid.jpg
Representational image of a squid.

Divelvanov/iStock 

Today’s materials can go from hot to cold or dark to light at the flicker of a switch. But what if they could do more? Researchers took inspiration from our oceans’ squids to develop a highly-alternating material with many useful properties.

This is according to a press release from the American Chemical Society published on Wednesday.

“Unique to the skin of squid and other cephalopods, iridocytes and chromatophores reversibly change their orientation and alter the animals’ appearance. Similarly, scientists have developed artificial materials that transition from reflecting to transmitting visible and infrared wavelengths by shifting from wrinkly to cracked. Because microwaves are much larger than these surface structures, they aren’t impacted,” noted the statement.

“However, researchers recently found that dense networks of electrically conductive materials, such as silver nanowires, could block microwaves. So, Yi Yang, Guangbin Ji, Zhichuan J. Xu and colleagues wanted to integrate surface structures with a conductive network in a soft film that could quickly transition between shielding visible-to-microwave bands and allowing them through.”

How did they achieve this? By using some pretty high-tech engineering

“The researchers created a two-layer film by spraying a thin coating of silver nanowires onto a stretched elastomer. Stretching and contracting the material produced cracks and bumpy wrinkles, respectively, in the metal surface. Then, when the researchers contracted the material to a -30% strain, it blocked light, trapped infrared heat and shielded up to 99.9% of microwaves that could interfere with devices. And as the material stretched apart, the expansion was directly related to an increase in optical transparency and heat and microwaves it transmitted. Additionally, the team demonstrated how the material could be used for various applications:

To transmit or block wireless electrocardiography signals.

As a blanket to trap body heat or allow it to escape.

For tracking movements because the materials produce temperature changes that are detectable by infrared cameras.”

This is not the first material inspired by squids. In February of 2023, University of Toronto Engineering researchers developed a unique system that can reduce the energy costs of heating, cooling, and lighting buildings by imitating the properties of squids.

They engineered a multilayered fluidic system that can optimize the wavelength, intensity, and dispersion of light transmitted through windows.

Graduate Raphael Kay, lead author, said in a statement at the time: "If we can strategically control the amount, type, and direction of solar energy that enters our buildings, we can massively reduce the amount of work that we ask heaters, coolers, and lights to do."

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