Opsins allow the cephalopod skin to perceive incoming light across its skin. Some sort of signal processing occurs, and then the chromatophores and iridophores produce a colored pattern in response. Mimicking this complex system could have far reaching impacts in the field of metamaterials generally, and specifically for camouflage and displays. Distributed sensing networks are another area that will benefit from this research.
Metamaterials are a new area of research, enabled by advances in sophisticated sensing and materials production. Unlike other materials, these are inhomogeneous composites design to exhibit unique behaviors. As they are purpose-designed they often perform more efficiently and effectively than traditional materials. Cephalopod-inspired metamaterials could have the advantage of organic molecules as opposed to heavy-metal pigments. Additionally, optical sensing is usually concentrated, or simple and distributed. The cephalopods manage distributed sophisticated optical sensors, a very unique feat.
Cephalopods possess chromatophores, iridophores, and opsins in their skin. The first two produce color and reflection respectively, while the latter senses that characteristics of incoming light. This system allows cephalopods to exhibit bewildering color changes that happen near instantaneously. Additionally, they utilize this system to communicate as well as camouflage.Watch a video about the process hereLearn more about optical metamaterials in Tamsin Woolley-Barker’s “Learning from the Master Shape-Shifter: Cephalopod Technologies” in Zygote Quarterly:
Distributed sophisticated optical sensing, complex color patterned material, benign pigments.Edit Summary