New Synthetic Chameleon Skin Could Lead to Instant Wardrobe Changes

Scientists have finally figured out the secret to the chameleon's color-changing skin. By Jan Bures/Shutterstock

Chameleons are one of the few animals in the world capable of changing their color at will. Scientists have only recently figured out how these shifty creatures perform their kaleidoscopic act, and now they have developed a synthetic material that can mimic the color-changing ability of chameleon skin, reports Gizmodo.

Though it may seem magical, the chameleon's trick is quite simple. It turns out that chameleons have a layer of nanocrystals in their skin cells that can reflect light at different wavelengths depending on their spacing. So when the skin is relaxed, it takes on one color. But when it stretches, the color changes. Chameleons merely need to flex their skin in subtle ways to alter their appearance.

Learning to mimic this animal's ability could lead to more than just new forms of advanced camouflage. Imagine if you could change the color of your wardrobe instantly, or if your car could get a new "paint job" at any time. Buildings lined with synthetic chameleon skin could alter their appearance in moments without architectural changes, or billboards could flash new messages at the drop of a hat.

All of these technologies could now be just around the corner thanks to the development of "flexible photonic metastructures for tunable coloration" that essentially work like artificial chameleon skin.

Basically, the material involves tiny rows of ridges that are etched onto a silicon film a thousand times thinner than a human hair. Each of these ridges reflects a specific wavelength of light, so it's possible to finely tune the wavelength of light that is reflected by simply manipulating the spacing between the ridges.

The technology does not yet have a direct commercial application — it's still in the beginning stages — but it may not be long before chameleon-like surfaces cover everything around us. More can be read about the technology in the journal Optica, where the new research was published.