A team of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania has created a technology that is inspired by chromatophores, special cells in octopuses and squid that can expand and compress internal reflective plates in response to external stimuli.
The engineers built an artificial chromatophore that can transform colors from near IR (infrared) to visible UV. And it can do this in milliseconds, using thin, flexible membranes made of a network of liquid crystal polymers.
The membranes were placed on tiny slots in a grid pattern. Each of these can be inflated to a specific pressure. As the cavity expands, the membrane stretches and its thickness decreases, causing a color change.
Octopus scene (I know, that's a bad joke)
The idea of materials that change color has been around for a while. Previously, however, these devices needed a voltage of about 75% to change the colors. The new method, on the other hand, only needs light pressure to change the hues on everything in the spectrum.
A huge step forward: requiring only 20% deformation, this new technology can be integrated into the pixels of a monitor (and more).
The lead author of the study published in Nature Materials, Shu yang, explains: “By observing how octopuses” generate structural color, we realized that their bodies contained elastic cells that functioned like pixels on a display. We think we can use the same method ”.
Camouflage monitors and more
Engineers, as mentioned, will be able to program these "electronic chromatophors" just like the pixels on a display, registering the precise pressure needed to bring each of them to the desired color. To do what?
Study co-author Kim Se-Um has very clear ideas: "These soft materials can find uses in distinct applications such as cryptography, adaptive optics and soft robotics."
We will find objects that become visible only with the right combination of pressure, or screens visible even to myopic people without glasses, or robots capable of studying animals without being seen, or more. Except for octopuses (I know, I fell back. For those who read the foreign versions of the site: they are all silly puns in Italian, pretend they are invisible).