Squid skin inspires research on next-generation space blanket

Next-generation space blankets could be made of a thermoregulatory material inspired by the functioning of squid skin, which changes color.

In the 1960s, NASA developed a highly efficient material alloy to deflect infra-red radiation and thus regulate temperature. It is composed of a layer of plastic covered with a thin layer of metal, such as aluminum. It is now used in various fields. It is found in particular in survival blankets.

A team of researchers from the University of California has recently been inspired by the skin properties of some cephalopods, such as squid. Their skin is in factcomposed of several layers. One of them contains pigmented cells and chromophores which dilate or contract according to the muscular movements of the animal. The light is thus captured and reflected, which mimics the thermoregulatory material conventionally used in space blankets.

The team of scientists has therefore sought to develop an innovative thermoregulatory material. It consists of a thin copper film, which reflects the infrared heat very effectively. This film, coupled with an expandable polymer layer, is covered with hairline fissures. Thus, when the material is stretched, the copper particles seperate, allowing heat to escape through the polymer.

The stages of manufacture of the film are detailed in English, via this link.

The material has been tested as a sleeve. The temperature of the person’s forearm was increased by 1 °C, a temperature equivalent to what can be achieved with a conventional space blanket. But the comfort of the users varies according to the stretching of the material. For example, stretched at 50%, the material had a temperature of 20.9°C, a temperature almost similar to that found with wool (20.5°C).

The material could be used in a number of different applications, such as building insulation, tent manufacturing, or coatings to effectively manage the temperature of electronic components.

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