A team of researchers led by Dr Alon Gorodetsky of the University of California, Irvine, has developed a tunable biomimetic infrared camouflage coating inspired by pencil squids.
The scientists produced reflectin – a structural protein essential in the squid’s ability to change color and reflect light – in common bacteria and used it to make thin, optically active films that mimic the skin of a squid.
With the appropriate chemical stimuli, the films’ coloration and reflectance can shift back and forth, giving them a dynamic configurability that allows the films to disappear and reappear when visualized with an infrared camera.
Infrared detection equipment is employed extensively by military forces for night vision, navigation, surveillance and targeting.
The novelty of this coating lies in its functionality within the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, roughly 700 to 1,200 nanometers, which matches the standard imaging range of most infrared visualization equipment. This region is not usually accessible to biologically derived reflective materials.
“Our approach is simple and compatible with a wide array of surfaces, potentially allowing many simple objects to acquire camouflage capabilities,” said Dr Gorodetsky, who with colleagues reported the results in the journal Advanced Materials.
“This is just the first step in developing a material that will self-reconfigure in response to an external signal.”
“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.”
Bibliographic information: Long Phan et al. Reconfigurable Infrared Camouflage Coatings from a Cephalopod Protein. Advanced Materials, published online July 20, 2013; doi: 10.1002/adma.201301472