9 September 2013

Bacteria modified with squid protein could be a camouflage game-changer for military

by Will Parker

What can the military learn from a plate of calamari? A lot about how to hide from enemies, say University of California Irvine scientists working on developing active camouflage technologies.

In the latest issue of the journal Advanced Materials, the researchers report on the creation of a biomimetic infrared camouflage coating inspired by Loliginidae (also known as pencil squids, or more familiarly, as the menu item calamari).

Lead researcher Alon Gorodetsky explained that the team devised a method to produce reflectin (a structural protein the squid uses to change color and reflect light) in common bacteria. The modified bacterial population were then used to make thin, optically active films that mimic the skin of a squid.

"The novelty of this coating lies in its functionality within the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, roughly 700 to 1,200 nanometers, which matches the standard imaging range of most infrared visualization equipment," said Gorodetsky. "This region is not usually accessible to biologically derived reflective materials."

Military forces use infrared detection extensively for night vision, navigation, surveillance, and targeting. Gorodetsky reports that with the appropriate stimuli, the films' coloration and reflectance can shift back and forth, giving the film a dynamic configurability that allows it to disappear and reappear when visualized with an infrared camera.

"Our approach is simple and compatible with a wide array of surfaces, potentially allowing many simple objects to acquire camouflage capabilities," said Gorodetsky. He adds that the work has likely applications in infrared stealth camouflage, energy-efficient reflective coatings and biologically inspired optics. "Our long-term goal is to create fabrics that can dynamically alter their texture and color to adapt to their environments. Basically, we're seeking to make shape-shifting clothing - the stuff of science fiction - a reality."

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Source: University of California, Irvine