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Technology

Squid-skin inspired material able to make next generation space blankets

Sea creatures have previously inspired scientists to create unique, innovative things. This time scientists have ta
Published May 3, 2019

Sea creatures have previously inspired scientists to create unique, innovative things. This time scientists have taken inspiration from squids in order to create next generation space blankets that can both trap or release the heat.

Sea creatures like squids have the ability to change the color of their skin due to particular cells called chromatophores. Replicating the manner in which these cells function, engineers from University of California-Irvine have made a flexible material that can either trap or release heat as needed.

Each chromatophore consists of a sac of pigment that normally appears as a small point. When the muscles surrounding one of the cells contact; the colored sac flattens into a disc shape, causing it to appear larger to an observer. Hence, when few neighboring chormatophore sacs all flatten into one another, the animal’s skin changes from being the underlying color to that of the pigment, explained New Atlas.

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Inspired by this system, the team developed a material that includes a layer of tiny metal ‘islands’ that border each other. “In the relaxed state, the islands are bunched together and the material reflects and traps heat, like a traditional Mylar space blanket,” said lead author Erica Leung. “When the material is stretched, the islands spread apart, allowing infrared radiation to go through and heat to escape.”

The material created has many pros. It is lightweight, easy to manufacture, cheap, and stands up to thousands of stretching and releasing cycles. The team is developing the material further for now and they hope it could be used in products like space blankets, adaptive building insulation, tents that keep their occupants at a decent temperature in both cool and warm weather, and even clothing that lets multiple people stay comfortable in the same space.

During an experiment of how such clothing might work, the scientists fashioned a sleeve from the material, which could be manually stretched or loosened via Velcro-like attachments. The sleeve was successfully used to modulate the skin temperature of a wearer’s forearm.

“The temperature at which people are comfortable in an office is slightly different for everyone,” as per Alon Gorodetsky, co-author of the paper. “Our invention could lead to clothing that adjusts to suit the comfort of each person indoors. This could result in potential savings of 30 to 40 percent on heating and air conditioning energy use.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019

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