Cephalopods are masters of camouflage in nature. Octopuses and squids can mask themselves so that they can adapt to their environment colors within seconds. Until today, no scientists have developed a similar method for humans, eg in technologies used in armaments. New research by doctor Leila Deravi from Norteastern University brings us a step closer to solving this puzzle.

Amazing optical properties

Chlorophore bodies contribute to rapid color changes in the skin of cephalopods. These tiny elements on the animal’s skin look like hundreds of multicolored freckles. Dr. Deravi’s group isolated pigment pellets in these organs to better understand their role in color change. Researchers have found that these granules have remarkable optical properties and used them to produce thin fibers that can be incorporated into fabrics, flexible displays and other color changing devices.

Chromatophores are found in shades of red, yellow, brown and orange. They are similar to freckles on human skin that appear with time. In cephalopods, these freckles appear and disappear in a fraction of a second. As a result, the skin color can constantly change adapting to the environment. Under the chromatophores there is a layer of iridofores that act like a mirror. Together these organs reflect all the colors of visible light.

Dissipation of visual light

The researchers also found that pigments can dissipate not only visible but also infrared light. It increases the level of light absorption and affects the perception of the intensity of the final color. This knowledge has enabled Dr. Deravi’s team to develop a mirror system that, by significantly diffusing the light, has further improved the ability of the human eye to perceive color. This process could be extremely functional when used in the production of solar cells – increasing the absorption of natural light several times.

From a scientific and technical point of view, researching and understanding how light scattering affects color perception is extremely important and opens up many new possibilities. It’s an exciting development path for optics as well as for biology – says Richard Osgood from U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center.

Enormous possibilities for the future

Researchers have succeeded in creating spools of fibers from pigment particles produced by squid and are still investigating the practical application of this material. The fibers are so visually interesting that it is not difficult to imagine weaving them into fabric for clothes or other forms of art. But perhaps the most exciting possible application are flexible screens and textiles that are adapted for adaptive coloring. Further research will also create new camouflage opportunities for soldiers.

For more than a decade, scientists and engineers have attempted to reproduce the natural process in the skin of cephalopods to build devices that can match color. Unfortunately, we have not even managed to get closer to the speed and dynamics of this process in animal skin. Today we are one step closer to solving this puzzle – says Dr. Leila Deravi.


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