The Loh Down On Science

Calamari Camo

Phan et al., J. Mat. Chem. C., July 2015

Fig. 4. (A) In daylight, the clear reflectin-coated tape lets the underlying camouflage material show through. B) At night, the reflectin-coated tape maintains the camouflage for the enemy's night-vision goggles, so it looks just like the leaves it's trying to blend in with. Without reflecin tape, an object like a soldier's silhouette would appear dark against the background it's actually trying to blend into. [Caption modified from original.]

Calamari:  It's not just for happy hour menus anymore!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Squid, also known as calamari, are geniuses of camouflage.  But how do they do it?

University of California Irvine scientist Alon Gorodetsky knows.  His lab studies materials inspired by the skin cells of squid.  Turns out their skin's reflective quality is due to a structural protein called, fittingly, reflectin.  It works by self-assembling into tiny structures, which the squid can change to reflect light in different ways.  But to work with it, lab members don't have to kill lots of squid.  They've engineered bacteria to make reflectin!

The researchers applied this bacterially produced reflectin to common household tape, making a kind of invisibility sticker.  They've found that, by stretching the sticker, they can get it to change thickness and reflectivity.

One use they envision?  Helping soldiers be less visible to night-vision cameras by applying the calamari-inspired stickers to their uniforms.  Though a challenge is getting different sections to all work the same way.

Perhaps removing the breading might help.  No!

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