Biomimetic Chromatophores

Collaborators at the University of Bristol presented an article in the journal of Bioinspiration and Biomimetics on creating a structure that simulates chromatophores.  The ability to replicate this behavior in artificial skin type structure creates new possibilities in the areas of active camouflage, thermal regulation, and active photovoltaics.  The link for the article is given here:  http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-3190/7/3/036009/pdf/1748-3190_7_3_036009.pdf.  This study uses a type of elctroactive polymer called dielectric elastomers to create the chromatophore-like material.  These elastomers have demonstrated actuation strains comparable to biological muscle with fast response times.  The study looks at mimicking two types of chromatophores:  cephalopod chromatophores and zebrafish melanophores.

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Achieving the functionality of the cephalopod chromatphores was done through implementing a planar membrane of dielectric elastomer that allows for radial expansion or contraction.  The picture on the left above shows a single artificial “planar” type chromatophore and on the right shows a cluster of artificial “planar” type chromatophores.  Both pictures depict the contracted and relaxed states of the artificial chromatophore.  The article also depicts a “negative” chromatophore, one that squeezes in similar to the way the iris of your eye becomes larger making your pupil smaller.

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Zebrafish melanophores work through the local translocation of fluids, such as inks.  This functionality was achieved using diaphragm of dielectric elastomers.  The picture above depicts the artificial melanophore which is made up of two dielectric pumping elements.  Both types of artificial chromatophores show promise in applications related to artificial skin.

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