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A Loh Down is a capsule of intriguing scientific research presented clearly, in a witty way, because we believe humor makes knowledge sticky. There is no limit to the science we can present—whether it be in astronomy, biology, computers, evolution, global warming, psychology, politics, sports or beyond—as long as we can make the gist of it graspable in 90 seconds. Our audiences are experts and novices, old and young. Explore the site to customize your journey in your area(s) of interest!

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Calamari Camo

07.14.15

Phan-et-al-reflectinFig. 4. (A) In daylight, the clear reflectin-coated tape lets the underlying camouflage material show through. B) At night, the reflectin-coated tape maintains the camouflage for an enemy's night-vision goggles, so it looks just like the leaves it's trying to blend into. Without the reflectin tape, an object like a soldier's silhouette would appear dark against the background it's actually trying to blend into. [Caption modified from original.]  Image credit: Phan et al., J. Mat. Chem. C., July 2015

Calamari: It's not just for happy hour menus anymore!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Squid, also known as calamari, are geniuses of camouflage. But how do they do it?

University of California Irvine scientist Alon Gorodetsky knows. His lab studies materials inspired by the skin cells of squid. Turns out their skin's reflective quality is due to a structural protein called, fittingly, reflectin. It works by self-assembling into tiny structures, which the squid can change to reflect light in different ways. But to work with it, lab members don't have to kill lots of squid. They've engineered bacteria to make reflectin!

The researchers applied this bacterially produced reflectin to common household tape, making a kind of invisibility sticker. They've found that, by stretching the sticker, they can get it to change thickness and reflectivity.

One use they envision? Helping soldiers be less visible to night-vision cameras by applying the calamari-inspired stickers to their uniforms. Though a challenge is getting different sections to all work the same way.

Perhaps removing the breading might help. No!

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