Apr 13, 2018 | By Julia

Two researchers from the University of New Hampshire are turning to an unlikely source of inspiration for new 3D printing materials: the common Octopus. As members of the Cephalopod family, octopuses, squids, and cuttlefish all have an important survival mechanism in common: their remarkable ability to camouflage, instantaneously transforming colour to match their surroundings. It’s an incredible disguise that gives these deep-sea creatures a leg (or tentacle) up when hiding from predators or hunting prey.

Now, for the first time, humans are getting in on the action. Based out of the department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire, professors Yunyao Jiang and Yaning Li spent considerable timeresearching the aquatic phenomenon, with an eye towards artificially recreating it. Their findings, published in the newest issue of the scientific journal Advanced Engineering Materials, are nothing short of astounding.

But first, it’s worth taking a closer look at the workings of this camouflaging mechanism as it exists in nature. Known as the underwater masters of disguise, Cephalopods all exhibit an amazing ability to camouflage due to highly responsive chromatophore organs found in their skins. The mechanics of a chromatophore organ revolve around a single pigment-containing chromatophore cell, combined with anywhere between 4 and 24 radially arranged muscle fibres. When an octopus contracts its muscles, whether to flee a dangerous situation or encroach on its prey, the creature’s chromatophore cells undergo a dramatic and rapid area change, effectively translocating the skin pigment.

Beyond basic colour changes, Cephalopods can also be strategic in their camouflaging ability by selectively and sequentially expanding and retracting distinct groups of chromatophore cells, enabling colour transformation across a very large range. In layman’s terms, not only can an octopus quickly change colour; it can also do so methodically to match its surroundings, with virtually any colour in the rainbow presenting itself as a viable option.

Inspired by this natural wonder, Jiang and Li began developing their own artificial chromatophores by way of multi-material 3D printing. Yet while octopuses use their chromatophore capabilities primarily for pigment translocation, the University of New Hampshire professors sought to bring about dramatic volume change and a uniquely sequential cell-opening mechanism with their work. Scientific concepts of auxetic effect (also known as negative Poisson’s ratio effect) and chiral geometry were key in achieving a successful outcome, which allows materials to expand in one direction when they are stretched in a different direction.

By tailoring their chiral geometry across two different directions, Jiang and Li could design a mechanism that, when loaded in only one direction, enabled cells of different sizes to open sequentially. That means the artificially designed cells can be opened in different ordering patterns, and tuned via a combination of geometry and materials. As a valuable new design concept, Jiang and Li’s innovation could have serious impacts on the smart metamaterials we use for actuation, drug delivery, and colour change. Potential applications are numerous, to say the least. By leveraging these 3D printed chromatophores, biomedical scaffolds, bandages, drug reservoirs and stents could be designed much more effectively to suit the wearer’s body. The expanding field of foldable or deployable devices could also clearly benefit from the innovation, alongside areas such as smart responsive composites, actuators and sensors, and stretchable electronics.

To check out the groundbreaking study in detail, head over to the Advanced Materials Engineering website.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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