TUESDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2021Wanting to undetectably conceal objects or just excited by the idea of an invisibility cloak, scientists have been investigating camouflage and cloaking technology for years. Recent research has been inspired by the octopuses’ ability to change colour and shape to mimic the texture of their surroundings, allowing them to hide from both predators and prey.
Octopus skin contains chromatophores, pigment-containing bundles that appear to change colour due to the contraction of surrounding muscles regulating their visibility. Meanwhile, another three types of muscles coordinate the shape of skin protrusions (known as papillae), allowing them to form complex shapes such as ridges and bumps. This is mediated by the nervous system, allowing rapid detection and response to the environment.
Inspired by octopus evolution, scientists at Rutgers University have developed a 3D-printed hydrogel containing light-sensing nanoparticles that detect the light conditions and can similarly respond by contracting to change shape and reveal different colours; this ‘artificial muscle’ could one day be used for camouflage, robotics, or flexible displays. But first, the scientists hope to improve the response time and durability of the hydrogels. Who knows? In the future, we could be in a pretty good position to win a game of hide-and-seek with an octopus!
Sona Popat is a third-year biological natural sciences undergraduate at Downing College. Artwork by Clara Munger.