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Squid's Protein to Improve Camouflage for Soldiers

First Posted: Sep 11, 2013 10:15 AM EDT

Inspired by the camouflaging phenomenon in giant squids researchers from the University of California ,Irvine  have developed an infrared coating using squid protein to aid the U.S. military in its stealth operations.

The common calamari squid is able to camouflage and blend completely into its surrounding. This phenomenon inspired the researchers to provide an improved camouflage for the soldiers.

The researchers, led by Alon Gorodetsky, an assistant professor of chemical engineering & materials science, used the structural protein called reflectin,  which is crucial in the squid's ability to change color and reflect light, and grew it in a bacteria culture. They used this protein to create an optically active, thin film, which copies the skin of a squid.

When this film is provided proper chemical stimuli, a back and forth shift can be observed in its reflective ability and coloration, which make these films capable of disappearing and reappearing when viewed with an infrared camera.

Military forces use these infrared cameras for night vision, targeting, navigation and surveillance.

The uniqueness of this coating lies in its functionality within the electromagnetic spectrum range, which is approximately 700 to 1,200 nanometers well within the imaging range of most infrared equipment. Biologically derived reflective materials are usually not able to access this area.

"Our approach is simple and compatible with a wide array of surfaces, potentially allowing many simple objects to acquire camouflage capabilities," said Gorodetsky, whose work has possible applications in infrared stealth camouflage, energy-efficient reflective coatings and biologically inspired optics.

This is just the first step in evolving a material which will self-reconfigure in reaction to an external signal, he added.

Alternative non-chemical strategies are being formulated by the Irvine researchers for activating alterations in coloration in the reflectin coating.

"Our long-term goal is to create fabrics that can dynamically alter their texture and color to adapt to their environments," Gorodetsky said.

"Basically, we're seeking to make shape-shifting clothing - the stuff of science fiction - a reality," he concluded.

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