Squid Skin Inspired Thermal Cup Cozy Could Keep Coffee Hotter

Newly invented thermoregulatory material could keep coffee hot and hands cool.

May 2, 2022
Squid Skin Inspired Thermal Cup Cozy Could Keep Coffee Hotter | Newly invented thermoregulatory material could keep coffee hot and hands cool.

Most people like to start their day with a nice hot drink. But what heats up must cool down, and that can be frustrating if you haven’t finished your tea or coffee. Thankfully, a newly invented material can help with that. 

This new thermoregulatory material takes its inspiration from nature. In fact, it is based on  the way squids can change their color to camouflage into their environments. It’s pretty amazing to think that someday soon, your cute little coffee cup cozy may have something in common with a creature that lives in the depths of the ocean.

Inspiration from cephalopods
In  a new study, published in the journal Nature, University of California Irvine (UCI) associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Dr. Alon Gorodetsky, and his research  team unveil a new invention: a thermoregulatory material that mimics the way squid skin works that is efficient, versatile, and sustainable. 

Gorodetsky fell in love with cephalopods at first sight according to Smithsonian Magazine. The moment he saw a video of an octopus camouflaging itself into a rock, he was smitten. He told Smithsonian Magazine that the video “really changed the trajectory of my career, because I started working on materials inspired by cephalopods.” 

Little did he know that his love of these amazing sea creatures would lead him to create a dynamic new thermoregulatory material inspired by squid skin.

How does it work?

Gorodetsky and his team were interested in materials that reflect infrared light (heat). They covered a very thin layer of copper a very heat-reflective material with a stretchy rubber polymer. 

The copper layer was placed in such a way that there are small fissures between the strands. This means that when the material is at rest, the copper is completely reflective, but when the material is stretched, the copper separates, allowing the heat to escape. 

But what does this have to do with squid skin? Squids and other cephalopods have the amazing ability to camouflage themselves to their environments. 

They do this using unique organs within their skin called chromatophores that can shrink and expand from tiny pinpricks to large spots of colors within seconds. As a result  squid skin can reflect different wavelengths of light colors depending on whether their muscles have expanded or contracted their cromotaphors. 

It is this aspect of squid biology that was the inspiration for the development of the new material. The copper strands act like chromatophores, expanding or contracting to reflect heat instead of color. When stretched 15 percent, it is as warm as a fleece. When stretched 50 percent, it’s as warm as a layer of wool. But when it is stretched to double its length it is as breezy as cotton.

Uses for the new thermal material
What Gorodetsky loves most about his work is studying the engineering of the natural world and using those principles to create new and useful products that help people live better lives, according to a UCI news release

To that end, the uses for this new material are endless. It could be used to create emergency heating blankets, insulation for anything from coffee cozies to refrigerated trucks, and it can even help keep your computers from overheating. 

Best of all, this new thermoregulatory material is inexpensive to produce, and very environmentally friendly because it is durable and easily reusable. So, the next time you take some coffee to go in an insulated cup, you may just have Gorodetsky and his love of cephalopods to thank.

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Tiki is a freelance writer, editor, and translator with a passion for writing stories. She believes in taking small actions to positively impact the world. She spends her free time reading, baking, creating art, and walking her rescue dog.