UVA team designs new squid-inspired technology for smart materials

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In Virginia, University of Virginia mechanical engineers and materials scientists, in collaboration with materials scientists at Penn State, the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, invented a “switching effect” for thermal conductivity and mechanical properties that can be incorporated into the fabrication of materials including textiles and garments.

Using heat transport principles combined with a biopolymer inspired by squid ring teeth, the team studied a material that can dynamically regulate its thermal properties – switching back and forth between insulating and cooling – based on the amount of water that is present.

Squid ring teeth, which make programmable materials possible, are an inspiring new avenue of scientific research that were FIRST DISCOVERED AT PENN STATE. These biomaterials contain unique properties such as strength, self-healing and biocompatibility, making them exceptionally suitable for programming at the molecular level, in this case for thermal regulation. This is more good news for the environment, since they can be extracted from the suction cups of squids or can be synthetically produced via industrial fermentation, both sustainable resources.

The invention holds great promise for all sorts of new devices and materials with the ability to regulate temperature and heat flow on demand, including the “smart” fabrics.