Cuttlefish and squid inspire space blankets and smart clothes

Octopus, cuttlefish and squid have provided the inspiration for an innovative material, destined to become space blankets, “smart” clothes and much more: the particular characteristics of the skin of these sea creatures, in fact, have been exploited by researchers at the University from California to Irvine, to make a fabric that can regulate the body temperature of the wearer, controlling the amount of heat trapped or released. 

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, could also be applied to thermally insulate buildings and camping tents. The two researchers, Erica Leung and Alon Gorodetsky, took the idea by looking at cuttlefish, squid and octopus: these animals have the ability to rapidly change color by changing the shape of skin cells. “We used a similar concept for our work, where we have layers of small metal ‘islands’ that border on each other,” explains Leung. “Under normal conditions, the islands touch and then the material reflects and traps heat – he continues – while when it is stretched the islands move away from each other, allowing the heat to escape”.

The ultra-light space blankets have been there for decades, like those in which athletes who participate in a marathon wrap around to prevent the rapid lowering of body temperature after the race, but these are non-adaptable materials. “Our version is able to change its properties,” says Gorodetsky. “We could make clothes that fit everyone’s needs – he adds – and this could lead to savings of 30% -40% for heating and air conditioning in closed rooms”.