“Hey Man, Gimme’ Some Skin” That Shifts Color on Demand

Not necessarily going to be an accessory for high-fivers, University of California at Berkeley researchers created a very thin, chameleon-like material that appears to be skin like. The material can change color on demand by applying a slight amount of force to it. According to Berkeley team  member Connie J. Chang-Hasnain, “This is the first time anybody has made a flexible chameleon-like skin that can change color simply by flexing it.”

The material poses possibilities for new display technologies, color-shifting for camouflage clothing, and sensors that can detect otherwise imperceptible defects in buildings, bridges, and aircraft. The researchers etch features smaller than a wavelength of light onto silicon film one thousand times thinner than a human hair. As a result, they were able to select the range of colors the material would reflect, depending on how it was flexed and bent.


Also, the semiconductor material allows for a skin that is incredibly thin, flat, and easy to manufacture. This results in materials that reflect pure colors that are highly efficient, reflecting up to 83% of the incoming light.

For demonstration, the researchers created a one-centimeter square layer of color-shifting silicon. Future developments would be needed to create a material large enough for commercial applications.  “The next step is to make this larger-scale and there are facilities already that could do so,” said Chang-Hasnain. “At that point, we hope to be able to find applications in entertainment, security, and monitoring.” 

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