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Researchers design jellyfish-inspired smart materials for anti-glare, encryption

Mon 22 Aug 2016

University of Connecticut

Researchers have developed a range of ‘squishy’ materials inspired by jellyfish and squid skin, for use in smart windows, anti-glare displays, and encryption technologies.

According to the team at the University of Connecticut, the materials comprise of several layers which change state when stretched and are able to quickly revert back to their original appearance.

The study, Bio-inspired sensitive and reversible mechanochromisms via strain-dependent cracks and folds, published recently in Nature Communications, describes a process whereby a stretchable elastomer is layered over a rigid film. When stretched the polymer creates cracks and folds in the rigid film, leading to various optical changes in the material.

In this way, the thin materials can change opacity, colour, fluorescence and even display an image or pattern.

‘There are several marine animals that can very smartly and actively alter their skin’s structure and color. In this work, we follow two examples, squid and jellyfish respectively, to create different mechanical responsive devices,’ noted chemical and biomolecular engineering professor, Luyi Sun.

In testing, the material was placed under 50,000 stretch and release cycles with the optical properties remaining intact. The researchers suggest that this durability proves the materials capacity for commercial applications.

The team wrote of a potential case in which a window could be built to morph from transparent to opaque depending on how much the material is stretched. This would allow for users to adjust transparency options according to privacy needs.

A further example, suggested by graduate student Songshan Zeng, could see small labels ‘incorporating the technology could go inside a cell phone… If the phone fell into a toilet, permanent wrinkles would form on the label in any desired shape… This would be a dead give-away to a vendor that a customer had voided the warranty.’

While the current optical properties only activate under ultraviolet light, the researchers plan to work on ways to modify it to work in daylight. The group is also looking into building partnerships to commercialise the product.

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