Drawing design inspiration from the skin of squid, researchers developed an adaptive space blanket that gives users the ability to control their temperature. The drawback to current Mylar heat-regulating blankets is static. The new material has changeable properties to regulate how much heat is trapped or released.
Researchers took design cues from various species of squid, octopi, and cuttlefish that use their adaptive, dynamic skin to thrive in aquatic environments. A cephalopod's unique ability to camouflage itself by rapidly changing color is due, in part, to skin cells called chromatophores that can instantly change from minute points to flattened disks.
The new blanket incorporates a layer of these tiny metal islands that border each other. In the 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, allowing infrared radiation to go through and heat to escape.
The material has applications as reflective inserts in buildings to provide an insulation layer that adapts to different environmental conditions; to fabricate tents that would be exceptionally good at keeping occupants comfortable outdoors; to make clothing that adjusts to suit the comfort of each person; and to effectively manage the temperature of electronic components.
Marathon runners who wrap themselves in space blankets might be able to type in a number on a garment-integrated user interface to achieve the desired level of thermal comfort, optimizing performance during races and recovery afterward. Other benefits include the material's light weight, ease and low cost of manufacturing, and durability; it can be stretched and returned to its original state thousands of times.