According to Science Daily, scientists are excited about a new breakthrough in creating a “second skin” for humans that can change colors based on the environment.
The brains behind the new development took inspiration from chameleons, which use photonic crystals in their skin to both blend in when under attack or stand out to attract a mate.
“Watching a chameleon change colors gave me the idea for the breakthrough,” says first author Yixiao Dong, a PhD candidate in Emory’s Department of Chemistry. “We’ve developed a new concept for a color-changing smart skin, based on observations of how nature does it.”
“Scientists in the field of photonic crystals have been working for a long time to try to create color-changing smart skins for a range of potential applications, such as camouflage, chemical sensing and anti-counterfeiting tags, ” added Khalid Salaita, another senior author of the paper. He is also a professor of chemistry at Emory University.
“While our work is still in the fundamental stages, we’ve established the principles for a new approach to explore and build upon.”
The technology behind the second skin is surprisingly not based on pigments. Rather, it is the tiny crystals that can change their pattern or lineup. Doing so changes the wavelengths of light, which are what we see as color (in the visible spectrum).
However, the breakthrough did not come without struggle. As the photonic crystals would change their spacing and pattern to change color, the size of the material would also change, creating a huge problem for the research team.
“No one wants a camouflage cloak that shrinks to change color,” Salaita joked.
To solve the problem, Dong did what many a student does when confused — go to YouTube. He watched videos of chameleons changing color while wondering why the animals did not shrink or grow.
He soon discovered the answer. The photonic crystals did not cover the entire skin of the reptile but were embedded on a “dark matrix.” The scientists were then able to recreate this in their newest cloak by using magnets that would shift the bottom matrix layer based on the photonic crystals’ movements.
The ingenious fix worked. Scientists watched in awe as the new and improved “second skin” cloak was able to successfully change color, while maintaining the same size.
Dong and team insist that there is more to be done — for example, the cloak took 10 minutes to change in color, and there are still other issues that need to be addressed. Nevertheless, it’s extremely exciting to the scientific community.
It will also be thrilling for fans of the wildly popular Harry Potter series. Harry’s invisibility cloak featured prominently throughout the seven books, helping Harry, Ron, and Hermione through multiple adventures. It even eventually served as one of the storied Hallows that helped the famous wizard defeat arch-nemesis Voldemort.
That said, the real-life cloak is still in the beginning stages of development, and is currently not sophisticated enough to display pure invisibility.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that legions of fans will be ecstatic to learn that something that had previously been considered a magical fiction is close to becoming a reality.
In other Harry Potter news, there has been murmuring about a Cursed Child movie, and the studio is hoping to reunite the original stars for the project, as reported by The Inquisitr.