Imagine a soldier who can change the color and pattern of his camouflage uniform from woodland green to desert tan at will. Or an office worker who could do the same with his necktie. Is someone at the wedding reception wearing the same dress as you? No problem – switch yours to a different color in the blink of an eye.
A breakthrough in a University of Central Florida (UCF) lab has brought those scenarios closer to reality. A team led by Professor Debashis Chanda of UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center and the College of Optics and Photonics (CREOL) has developed a technique for creating the world’s first full-color, flexible thin-film reflective display.
Chanda’s research was inspired by nature. Traditional displays like those FLEXIon a mobile phone require a light source, filters and a glass plates. But animals like chameleons, octopuses and squids are born with thin, flexible, color-changing displays that don’t need a light source – their skin.
“All manmade displays – LCD, LED, CRT – are rigid, brittle and bulky. But you look at an octopus, they can create color on the skin itself covering a complex body contour, and it’s stretchable and flexible,” Chanda said. “That was the motivation: Can we take some inspiration from biology and create a skin-like display?”
As detailed in the cover article of the June issue of the journal Nature Communications, Chanda is able to change the color on an ultrathin nanostructured surface by applying voltage. The new method doesn’t need its own light source. Rather, it reflects the ambient light around it.