Research into color-changing smart material is inspired by fish


Imagine if your shirt had the ability to camouflage you by instantly changing its color. You could literally wear the same shirt with different color designs on separate occasions. Or, what if your gadgets could do the same? Researchers at the University of Bristol have been inspired by underwater creatures such as cephalopods and zebrafish to develop man-made versions of the organisms’ color-changing abilities.

Cephalopods are able to manipulate the pigmentation of their skin, creating pulsating bands of color that travel across it, through their specialized cells known as chromatophores that each contain a sac filled with particles of pigment. These sacs expand when its surrounding muscles contract, causing the sacs to appear larger. In Zebrafish, the chromatophores contain liquid pigmentation that gets pumped through the skin to spread out the ink.

The researchers used silicone material and dielectric elastomers or electrically-activated polymers that are activated with an electric current to create an artificial version of what’s found on the fish. These synthetic chromatophores are adaptable and can be stretched and deformed while still operating properly. This means that if the research continues, we might see this new technology of “smart material” implemented in our clothing, gadgets, or anywhere else you could imagine.