Artificial Chameleon Skin Is Weird and Cool

By Rafi Letzter

A team of chemists has created a substance that can change its color and stiffness, which they’re comparing to chameleon skin.

The stretchy material is made up of strands of copolymers — complex, self-assembling large molecules that in this case are shaped like long dumbbells, with spherical bulges on each end. The way those copolymers react to mechanical stress allows them to vary their stiffness and color, the researchers wrote in a paper published Friday (March 30) in the journal Science.

Like a chameleon, the substance doesn’t undergo any chemical changes when it changes color. Instead, those tiny bulges at the ends of the copolymers move closer together or farther apart, changing how they interact with light.

When the long copolymers weave together in cross-linked structures, the researchers wrote, they can “display vibrant color, extreme softness, and intense strain stiffening on par with that of skin tissue.

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