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Giant Clams Could Help Us Make Better Screens and Solar Cells

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The giant clams native to the Pacific and Indian oceans are among a unique group of animals that can use iridescent cells to produce color. Rather than relying on pigment, these creatures have cells known as iridocytes—like those found on the exterior flesh of a giant clam—that use their structure to scatter light waves and produce iridescent shades. Scientists are hoping that by better understanding how this phenomenon works in giant clams they will be able to create more efficient solar panels and color displays in the future.

In a study published this month in the scientific journal Optica [PDF], researchers from the University of California in Santa Barbara detail their investigation into how the clam is able to produce each of its shades. In the species Tridacna maxima and Tridacna derasa, for example, the clams generate their white hues by mixing colors in a way similar to how video displays mix red, blue, and green pixels to create white.

Giant clams rely on sunlight to make their color, while most color displays we see today use light sources like LEDs. If researchers can find a way to create nanostructures for screens modeled after iridocytes, then smartphones, tablets, and TVs could possibly use the ambient light around them to generate color. Not only would this be more energy efficient, but it would be easier on the eyes as well.

The researchers also looked into how this mechanism in giant clams could be used to improve efficiency in solar panels. "If we could use what we learned from the clams to build a very efficient distributed light-gathering system, then we could use that to make more efficient 3D solar cells that require less area than our present rooftop and land-based solar farms," the study’s lead author Amitabh Ghoshal said in a statement. The team is now moving forward with their findings to design and test solar cells that take their inspiration from clam biology.

[h/t: Mashable]

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Animals
25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big
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If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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