Astounding new material changes color and patterns like a chameleon

A new material created by Japanese researchers is able to change its coloration like a chameleon. This bio-inspired composite could see use in the next generation of display technology, providing a more vivid viewing experience in the future, a Science Daily article stated.

Chameleons are just one of the many creatures that can change their color in response to environmental stimulation. Others include frogs and octopuses.

Researchers studied the anatomy, cells, and molecules behind the ability of these animals to change their color. They hope to find ways to adapt these abilities into human technology such as display screens, which need to be able to change colors.

The research team from Nagoya University (Nagoya) came up with a new material that implemented their findings on the color-changing capabilities of certain frogs. The crystals and dyes are able to change their colors and patterns based on the background color of the material and the presence of visible or ultraviolet light. (Related: In the near future, paint colors may be grown from bacteria.)

New material is almost as complex as the color-changing skin of frogs

The researchers came up with the color-changing material after studying several species of frogs. The skins of these amphibians are made of multiple layers of different cells. Every layer and its component cells have different properties. When they work together, these organic parts can pull off impressive changes in color.

The new composite material replicates that natural ability to change color. It involves a good mix of crystals and dyes that respond to different stimuli.

Each dye has its own inherent pigmentation. Some of them change their color when they get hit by light. By combining different dyes together, the appearance of the material can be altered according to the requirements of the user.

In addition to the dyes, the material also features spherical crystals that change color through a different means. Whereas the dyes rely on the pigmentation process, the crystals use microscopic structures to manipulate light.

Last but not least are a black pigment and the background color of the material. The combination of these, the crystals, and the dyes can change the colors of the other parts of the system display.

Color-changing composite could change display technology

Researcher Yukikazu Takeoka explained how the Nagoya team examined the effects of the various parts of the composite material. They experimented with altering the size of the light-bending crystals, changing the color of the background, and using two different kinds of light: visible and ultraviolet.

Takeoka, who served as the corresponding author of the study, reported that the changes led to different colors appearing on the material. He noted that their material was able to replicate the color-changing capability of chameleons and other animals, especially the way in which they responded to environmental stimuli like light and stress.

“This is an exciting stage in this field of study, as we are increasingly able to adapt the color-changing mechanisms that some animals use to artificial devices,” said researcher Miki Sakai, the first author of the study.

Animals are capable of taking on brilliant hues and shades of color in order to blend with their surroundings or stand out all the more. Sakai, Takeoka, and the rest of the Nagoya research team believe their composite material could match or even exceed these natural displays.

If perfected, the color-changing material could see use in the displays for mobile devices and larger appliances. The researchers published their results in the science journal Small.

Drop by for more articles about the lessons we are learning from studying nature.

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