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Live heart cells make this material shift color like a chameleon

The hydrogel-based strips change hues when contracting and expanding

By
2:00pm, March 28, 2018
chameleon material

KEEPING THE BEAT  Five hydrogel strips covered in heart tissue contract when the heart cells do. That shrinkage makes the material reflect more blue light. When the cells relax, the strips extend and reflect more red light.

To craft a new color-switching material, scientists have again taken inspiration from one of nature’s masters of disguise: the chameleon.

Thin films made of heart cells and hydrogel change hues when the films shrink or stretch, much like chameleon skin. This material, described online March 28 in Science Robotics, could be used to test new medications or possibly to build camouflaging robots.

The material is made of a paper-thin hydrogel sheet engraved with nanocrystal patterns, topped with a layer of living heart muscle cells from rats. These cells contract and expand — just as they would inside an actual rat heart to make it beat — causing the underlying hydrogel to shrink and stretch too. That movement changes the way light bounces off the etched crystal, making the material reflect more blue light when it contracts and more red light when it’s relaxed.

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