Squid skin is inspiring engineers in the design of an adaptive space blanket. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have developed a space blanket that provides users with the ability to control their temperature.
“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—but the key drawback is that the material is static,” said co-author Alon Gorodetsky, 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.”
The researchers took design features from species such as squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish. A cephalopod’s ability to camouflage itself and change its color quickly stems from skin cells, called chromatophores that can change from minute points to flattened disks.
“We use a similar concept in our work, where we have a layer of these tiny metal ‘islands’ that border each other,” said lead author Erica Leung, a UCI graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering. “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.”
Gorodetsky mentioned other applications that could be used with this novel material, such as reflective inserts in buildings to provide an extra layer of insulation, material used in tents to keep individuals warm, and using it to monitor the temperature of electronic components.
Gorodetsky also believes clothing is a prime candidate for this material. Currently, he collaborates on research projects with counterparts at athletic apparel manufacturer Under Armour Inc.
“The temperature at which people are comfortable in an office is slightly different for everyone. Where one person might be fine at 70 degrees, the person at the next desk over might prefer 75 degrees,” 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 percent on heating and air conditioning energy use.”
Leung also noted the material’s lightweight, ease, and low cost of manufacturing, saying it could help propel the material’s use in future applications. Additionally, it can be stretched and returned to its original state thousands of times.
Filed Under: TECHNOLOGIES + PRODUCTS, Materials • advanced