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Hidden in plain sight: Nanotechnology helps create color-shifting mechanical chameleon

They say you have to see it to believe it. But what if it’s really there – and you just can’t see it?

Imagine buildings hiding in plain sight, clothing able to adapt to the surrounding environment or even planes seamlessly blending into the sky. It’s called active camouflage, and while it might appear to be something out of science fiction, look again: the latest breakthrough in nanotechnology has brought the world one step closer to achieving this reality.

According to a report published in ACS Nano, researchers from Wuhan University in China have created color-shifting plates using a combination of nanomaterials, electrical currents and silver ions that can alter the wavelength of the light the plates reflect.

The chameleon-like technology requires sensors that detect the color variations of its environment. With this information, electrical currents are passed through each plate containing silver ions. Depending on the electrical current, the silver ions’ thickness and orientation change, allowing the plate to reflect different wavelengths of light within seconds.

To demonstrate the technology’s capabilities, researchers created a 3-D printed chameleon covered in the color-shifting plates. In their YouTube video, you can see the chameleon pass in front of three different colored backgrounds. Watch as the plates change from orange to green then to blue as the chameleon passes through each color.

It may seem simple on the surface, but the science behind it is really quite remarkable. Of course, more research is needed to reach the capabilities required for active camouflage, but you could bet it’s enough for the late, great novelist Jules Verne to smile from ear to ear.

The American Chemistry Council’s Nanotechnology Panel promotes the responsible development of nanotechnology by advancing good product stewardship practices among nanomaterial producers and users. Panel members have the opportunity to help shape the industry’s positions on nanotechnology regulation, research, and stewardship practices and build relationships with other leaders in the field.

Reach out to the Panel manager at to learn more about the Panel and how its activities can benefit you and your company.

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