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Hide Yourself Like an Animal—Instantly

Forget that visit to the Army-Navy store for camouflage gear. Researchers at the University of Bristol are developing plastics that change colors as fast as flicking a switch, and do it in the same way that squid and zebrafish hide themselves from predators. Check out this easily-seen, nondisguised video:

The first approach mimics what squids do: The animals’ cells have pigment sacs that squeeze and expand to create large blotches of color. The Bristol scientists created polymer bands that squeeze in the same way when triggered by an electric current, seen in the first part of the video.

Zebrafish use a different tactic for disguise. They pump pigment out to their skin from a central holding tank. Again scientists used electricity-driven polymers, but this time—as shown in the second video segment—they constructed one pump that squirts out a mixture of black ink and water, and another that squirts a clear substance to reverse the process.

It all happens very quickly. The researchers say the materials can be made larger, and they envision skintight “smart” clothing that can change colors or patterns in a few moments. They describe their work today in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

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