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Learning from nature

Cephalopods use muscles that can change the shape of tiny pigment sacs in the skin to change their colors. For example, when the muscles contract, a color blob that was barely visible turns into a wide, flattened shape that can be seen.“When the muscles contract, they stretch that ball into a pancake, and use that to change color,” Zhao explains.

“In a relaxed state, it is very small.”The contraction of the muscles also alters the texture of the skin, changing it from smooth to bumpy.He continues, “We got inspired by this idea, from this wonderful creature.” Octopuses use this mechanism for both signaling and camouflage.

A type of flexible, stretchable polymer known as an elastomer is the new synthetic material.According to Qiming Wang, a postdoc at MIT and the paper’s first author, “it changes its fluorescence and texture together, in response to a change in voltage applied to it — essentially, changing at the flip of a switch.”