What could a device like the Amazon Kindle possibly have in common with a cuttlefish?

Both depend on reflective surfaces to vividly communicate information.  For tablets and other e-devices, synthetic reflective e-paper is used to deliver the best available display technology for users.  For cuttlefish and their relatives, squid and octopus, (all of which belong to class of animals called cephalopods), their remarkable skin provides natural reflectivity with very efficient manipulation of available light. This enables their adaptive coloration for communication or camouflage with a speed and diversity unparalleled in the animal kingdom.

Credit: Lisa Ventre, University of Cincinnati

A new paper from MBL biologists Lydia Mäthger and Roger Hanlon and material scientists from the University of Cincinnati, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Army Research Laboratory examines the parallels between e-Paper technology (the technology behind sunlight-readable devices like the Kindle) and the mechanisms of adaptive coloration in cephalopods.

The researchers note that while the basic approach for color change is similar in techie devices and in nature, humanity has never developed anything as complex or sophisticated as the biology and physics of cephalopod skin.

With their collaboration, the scientists propose three hopeful outcomes for the interdisciplinary community: that reflective display engineers may gain new insights from millions of years of natural selection and evolution; that biologists will benefit from understanding the types of mechanisms, characterization, and metrics used in synthetic reflective e-Paper; and that all scientists will gain a clearer picture of the long-term prospects for capabilities such as adaptive concealment and signaling.