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John O | May 2019

New, adaptive space blanket that controls body temperature based on the skins of squids

By Josh Perry, Editor
[email protected]


While lightweight space blankets have been used for decades (think of the blankets that runners are wrapped in at the end of marathons), researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) designed new blankets that give users control over the amount of heat being trapped or released.


Alon Gorodetsky, UCI associate professor of chemical & biomolecular engineering, and Erica Leung, a UCI graduate student in that department, have invented a new material that can trap or release heat as desired. (Steve Zylius/UCI)


According to a report from the university, researchers based the new blanket design on the adaptive skins of squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish that camouflage themselves in the aquatic environments in part because their skin cells can change shape.


In the blanket, scientists have metal “islands” that border each other. When relaxed, the islands are bunched together to reflect and trap heat, but when stretch the islands spread out to allow heat to escape.


One of the researchers collaborates on projects with the athletic apparel company Under Armour and this material has obvious applications in clothing, but the researchers also believe it can be used as insulating materials for buildings, material for tents, and also for thermal management of electronics.


“And those marathon runners who wrap themselves in space blankets might be able to type in a number on a garment-integrated user interface to achieve the desired level of thermal comfort, optimizing performance during races and recovery afterward,” the article added.


The research was recently published in Nature Communications. The abstract stated:


“Effective thermal management is critical for the operation of many modern technologies, such as electronic circuits, smart clothing, and building environment control systems. By leveraging the static infrared-reflecting design of the space blanket and drawing inspiration from the dynamic color-changing ability of squid skin, we have developed a composite material with tunable thermoregulatory properties.


“Our material demonstrates an on/off switching ratio of ~25 for the transmittance, regulates a heat flux of ~36 W/m2 with an estimated mechanical power input of ~3 W/m2, and features a dynamic environmental setpoint temperature window of ~8 °C.


“Moreover, the composite can manage one fourth of the metabolic heat flux expected for a sedentary individual and can also modulate localized changes in a wearer’s body temperature by nearly 10-fold. Due to such functionality and associated figures of merit, our material may substantially reduce building energy consumption upon widespread deployment and adoption.”

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