Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cuttlefish TV - Coming Soon to a Television Near You?

Image: Getty & Samsung

When most people think of animals changing colour, the first one that pops to mind is the chameleon. However, very few people think of the cuttlefish – a member of the squid/octopi family. Not only can cuttlefish change colours in less than a second; but, they can make various patterns, such as waves of colour. Check out the videos below to see more of the amazing cuttlefish.

Science has for many years been interested in biomimicry – the adaptation of naturally-found processes to solve problems mankind has made themselves. Scientists at MIT are using the cuttlefish as inspiration to build electronic-ink and TV screens that could use less than one-hundredth the power of traditional television screens; yet, remain cheap, easy and safe using polystyrene.

"Cuttlefish change their color by secreting different chemicals to change the spacing between membranes," said Edwin Thomas, a professor at MIT. Thomas recently co-authored a paper describing his team's new screen in the journal Advanced Materials.

"We have created an artificial electrical system to control the spacing between layers," he said which enables the changing the colors on the screen.

Photo courtesy: Discovery News

From Discovery News:
The current screen prototype is several square inches across but only one micron thick. Crammed into that narrow space are 20 to 30 layers of alternating "dirt cheap polystyrene that doesn't do anything," said Thomas, and "responsive" poly-2 vinyl.

At rest, with no electrical charge, the screen is clear. As the voltage increases, the poly-2 vinyl expands, becoming thicker and thicker while reflecting ever longer wavelengths of light, starting with blue and finishing with red at 10 volts.

There are several drawbacks with the present screen: the viewing angle can be limited; the screen needs to be viewed it a lit room; in a dark room the screen would remain blank. However, this is “early days” yet; and, there is plenty of time to fine-tune the screen. Meanwhile, it can still be used in certain specialized applications.

The screen is so easy to assemble, said Thomas, that he that is working with a Boston area science teacher to produce a version cheap enough, safe enough and simple enough for middle and high school students to build in chemistry class.

Apparently, MIT isn't the only institution working on these reflective screens. Microsoft, Sun Chemical Corp., the University of Cincinnati and Cornell University are all actively researching the reflective screen research units. Each group is pursuing these screens for a variety of different purposes. Electronic ink applications, pressure sensors and advertising billboards are only a few of the potential applications.

"The tune-ability of these systems is fantastic," said Stephen Foulger, a professor at Clemson University also working on reflective screens. "There is a huge span of colors and applications."

I have included two videos that show the cuttlefish's amazing ability to change colour. There is nothing wrong with your speakers. The first video is silent.

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