Squid skin inspires next-generation space blanket

Squid skin has inspired a next-generation space blanket which researchers say will allow wearers to control their temperature.

Engineers at the University of California, Irvine, developed the material and published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

“Ultra-lightweight space blankets have been around for decades – you see marathon runners wrapping themselves in them to prevent the loss of body heat after a race,” said Dr Alon Gorodetsky.

“But the key drawback is that the material is static,” explained Dr Gorodetsky, a UCI associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

“We’ve made a version with changeable properties so you can regulate how much heat is trapped or released.”

Cephalopod species including squids, octopuses and cuttlefish use their adaptive, dynamic skin to camouflage themselves in aquatic environments.

They are able to rapidly change their colour in part due to skin cells called chromatophores which can instantly alter their shape from tiny points to flattened disks.

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A cuttlefish swims in an aquarium at the Scientific Center of Kuwait on March 20, 2016, in Kuwait City. / AFP / YASSER AL-ZAYYAT (Photo credit should read YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Cuttlefish can change their colours to blend in to their environment

“We use a similar concept in our work, where we have a layer of these tiny metal ‘islands’ that border each other,” said the study’s lead author, Erica Leung.

“In the relaxed state, the islands are bunched together and the material reflects and traps heat, like a traditional Mylar space blanket.

“When the material is stretched, the islands spread apart, allowing infrared radiation to go through and heat to escape,” explained Ms Leung.

The technology could have potential uses beyond space blankets, believes Dr Gorodetsky, for example in a building to provide adaptive insulation.

Clothing would be one of the best applications for the organically-inspired material, he said.

“The temperature at which people are comfortable in an office is slightly different for everyone,” he said.

“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 % on heating and air conditioning energy use.”

Source: SKY NEWS

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