It’s way less gross than it sounds.
If you don’t know, a space blanket is a special blanket made of heat-reflective plastic. It’s a mainstay in survival kits, intended to prevent sudden thermal loss. Marathon runners use them, for example, after a long run so they don’t lose all of their body heat from sweating. However, the downside to this kind of blanket is that it only traps heat and makes you hotter. Granted, that’s the intent most of the time, but you can’t shoot for specific temperatures you may find more comfortable. Enter, Alon Gorodetsky and Erica Leung, a professor and graduate student and UCI that have developed a new space blanket inspired by the sleek skin of the squid.
See, squids and similar cephalopods have adaptive skin that allows them to change color and density at will, which in turn allows them to live in just about any kind of underwater habitat. This is accomplished through special skin cells called chromatophores, which can point out or flatten. The new space blanket uses a similar notion; beneath the surface is a layer of tiny metal dot things that bunch up and trap heat, just like a regular space blanket. The difference is that when the blanket is stretched out, the dot things spread apart, allowing heat to escape. By stretching the material to different lengths, you can create zones of specific temperatures under the blanket.
Gorodetsky and Leung believe this new material could have all sorts of practical applications, including (but not limited to) building insulation, climate controlled outdoor tents, and even breathable clothes. It’s also light, easy and cheap to make, and surprisingly durable. We may have just found the material of the future, and it’s all thanks to our good friend, the squid.