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  • I don’t know about you, but I thought to be chameleon-like was to be someone

  • who could fit in anywhere. Adapt. Blend in. Turns out that is all wrong.

  • Chameleons don’t change color to match their environment. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

  • Their baseline is camouflage.

  • When chameleons are relaxed, theyre mostly green. They naturally blend into their home

  • in the forest canopy. They even mimic leaves by dancing around a little.

  • But when they feel threatened, or annoyed, or just want to show a little swagger,

  • that’s when their color changes.

  • They transform into living mood rings.

  • Chameleons change color to make a statement. The faster their skin changes colors,

  • the more excited they are.

  • How they do this? Well it turns out we've been getting that wrong too.

  • Until this year, scientists thought chameleons change color by spreading out pigments

  • in their cells, like the skin of the squid we're seeing right here.

  • But the truth is way more complex.

  • Just below the surface of their skin is a layer of cells called iridophores.

  • These cells contain tiny, nano-scale salt crystals.

  • Theyre only 130 nanometers across - less than one hundredth of the width of a human hair.

  • The crystals are arranged in a three-dimensional lattice.

  • When light hits the lattice, it shatters into different wavelengths. Some are absorbed

  • and some bounce back.

  • The result, to our eyes, appears green or red or blue.

  • The wings of the Morpho butterfly have similar structures, which reflect brilliant blue hues.

  • But unlike Morpho butterflies, chameleons can stretch or contract the lattice, which

  • moves the distance between crystals.

  • Each of these points of light is an array of crystals. When the distance between them

  • changes, they reflect a different wavelength of light. The result is a dramatic shift in

  • color.

  • So what if we could come up with some kind of material that could change from one brilliant

  • color to another.

  • Electrical engineers at UC Berkeley are trying to do that... To mimic a chameleon’s structural

  • color control with synthetic materials.

  • They arranged tiny, nano-scale silicon ribbons on a sheet of flexible plastic. Each one of

  • thesepixelsis made of an about 160 ribbons.

  • When the plastic stretches, the space between the ribbons becomes greater and a different

  • wavelength of light is reflectedjust like chameleon skin….

  • Well almost.

  • This synthetic chameleon skin has just one layer of nano-scale arrays.

  • The salt crystals in chameleon skin are stacked in several layers, which makes their skin

  • some of the most colorful and complex in the animal kingdom.

  • They produce colors that aren't even visible to human eyes.

  • What I like about chameleons is that they show us how wrong we can be about science.

  • What we called camouflage is an entire language... as alien to us as the clicks of a dolphin

  • or the low rumble of an elephant.

  • A visual language... made of colors we can only begin to imitate and imagine.

I don’t know about you, but I thought to be chameleon-like was to be someone

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