Apr 29, 2019 03:20 PM EDT
The University of California's engineers has drawn design inspiration from the skin of stealthy sea creatures to develop a next-generation, adaptive space blanket that gives users the ability to control their temperature. The engineers detailed their research in a study published in Nature Communications.
UCI associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Alon Gorodetsky, the lead author of the study, said that ultra-lightweight space blankets had been around for decades as marathon runners wrap themselves in them to prevent the loss of body heat after a race, but the critical drawback is that materials are static.
As a result, the engineers have made a version with changeable properties so you can regulate how much heat is trapped or released.
The researchers at UCI took design cues from various species of squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish that use their adaptive, dynamic skin to thrive in aquatic environments. The unique ability of a cephalopod to camouflage itself by rapidly changing color is due, in part, to skin cells called chromatophores that can instantly switch from little points to flattened disks.
The lead author of the study, Erica Leung, a UCI graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering, said that they utilized the same concept in their work where they have a layer of tiny 'islands' that border each other. In a relaxed state, the islands are bunched together, and the material reflects and traps heat like a traditional Mylar space blanket. When the material is stretched, the islands spread apart to give room for infrared radiation to go through and heat to escape.
Gorodetsky added that he has many more applications in mind for the new material, as reflective inserts in buildings to provide an insulation layer that adapts to various environmental conditions, to fabricate tents that would be exceptionally good at keeping occupants comfortable outdoors, and to effectively manage the temperature of valuable electronic components.
He stated further that the temperature at which people are comfortable in an office is slightly different for everyone. One person may be happy at 70 degrees, and the other may prefer 75 degrees. This new invention could lead to clothing that adjusts to suit the comfort of each person indoors. This innovation could result in potential savings of 30 to 40 percent on heating and air conditioning energy use.
Leung mentioned other benefits including the material's light weight, ease and low cost of manufacturing, as well as durability. She concluded that users could stretch and return the material to its original state thousands of times.
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