Engineers at Cornell University led by James Pikul and Robert Shepherd made stretchable surfaces with programmable 3D texture morphing, a synthetic “camouflaging skin”. They collaborated with cephalopod biologist Roger Hanlon of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). The invention is a pneumatically-activated material which takes a cue from the 3D bumps, or papillae, like cephalopods can express in one-fifth of a second for dynamic camouflage, and then retract to swim away without the papillae imposing hydrodynamic drag.
Hanlon and members of his laboratory, including Justine Allen, now at Brown University, were the first to describe the structure, function, and biomechanics of these morphing 3D papillae in detail. “In the European cuttlefish, there are at least nine sets of papillae that are independently controlled by the brain. And each papilla goes from a flat, 2D surface through a continuum of shapes until it reaches its final shape, which can be conical or like trilobes or one of a dozen possible shapes. It depends on how the muscles in the hydrostat are arranged,” Hanlon says. The new created material could be controllably morphed to reflect light in its 2D spaces and absorb light in its 3D shapes. It possibly will have many applications in our life.