PORTLAND, Ore.—Metamaterials that can bend light in nearly any direction may hold the key to future military camouflage based on the chameleon-like photosensitive skin of the squid. Marine biologists collaborating with engineers and scientists at Rice University will develop the new metamaterial with a $6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research.
Roger Hanlon, a marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who specializes in cephalopods (squid, octopus and cuttlefish) will team with Naomi Halas, a nano-optics pioneer at Rice, to investigate how metamaterials can be constructed which observe and match their colors to the surrounding environment.
Cephalopod skin, it turns out, contains the same type of light-sensing proteins as in their eyes, allowing them to detect the color of surrounding objects, then adapt to match it, according to Hanlon. The investigators will attempt to determine if cephalopod skin is all that is involved, or if the signals are sent to the brain for processing first.
"Do their brains play a part, or is this totally downloaded into the skin so it's not using animal CPU time?" said Halas.
The resultant designer metamaterial will harness the novel structures being developed by Rice chemist Stephan Link, plus will involve the optics expertise of Rice physicist Peter Nordlander, the signal-processing expertise of Rice researcher Rich Baraniuka, and will be packaged by John Rogers, a co-investigator at the University of Illinois.
In previous research, Rice researcher Naomi Halas made light bending nanocups from colloidal particles on glass capped by an elastomer that is lifted off after curing.