One third of the world’s energy consumption is used to maintain comfortable temperatures in building environments. Furthermore, recent studies indicate that energy usage in commercial and residential buildings is rapidly increasing worldwide. A new material, inspired by the changing color of squid skin, may offer a thermo-regulating solution.
Alon Gorodetsky, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Irvine, was first inspired by a video of a startled octopus. The cephalopod’s skin rapidly changes color and texture as a defense mechanism when confronted by predators.
Squid skin has organs called chromatophores that can expand and contract to sizes 14 times wider or smaller than the original size in less than a second. As Scientific American reports, the controlled expansion or contraction of these spots enables different wavelengths of light to be reflected from the creature’s skin. Gorodetsky and graduate student Erica Leung researched this biological mechanism and invented a stretchy new “thermocomfort” material that can trap or release heat with controlled tension.
The material consists of a thin film of copper overlaying a stretchy rubber substrate. While the copper layer reflects infrared heat back toward the source, tiny fissures in the copper allow heat to escape through the polymer layer when stretched.
The material, they explain, has a myriad of potential uses, from heat-regulating apparel to energy-saving skins for rooftops and building materials. Enhancing the efficiency of commercial and residential buildings could lead to a decrease in both global energy consumption and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. What are your thoughts?