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Morpho is an elastic material that changes color when stretched, inspired by the nanostructures found on a butterfly wing, with applications in healthcare, fashion, and robotics.

  • A single piece of material being stretched by increasing amounts.

  • A short demo reel showing the material in action.

    A short demo reel showing the material in action.

  • A large sheet showing full color printing, also being stretched.

  • The material under compression, responding to a finger and strawberry when pressed in.

  • The material bound to a bandage, the pressure at different locations shown by different colors.

What it does

The forces in the world around us are vitally important, yet often invisible. Morpho translates these into color change, customizable across a range of forces, colors, and patterns. Morpho is washable, durable, and can be produced at large scale and low cost.

Your inspiration

The goal was to solve the problem of treating venous ulcers, a chronic wound normally found on the leg that affects between 1-3% of the US population. Compression therapy is the main form of treatment, but is a challenge for medical professionals as it is only effective when applied with the correct amount of pressure. By creating a bandage that changes color when stretched, the color shows how much pressure is applied, greatly simplifying treatment. This material has a plethora of other use cases, from sportswear that can visualize athletic performance, to a new generation of robotic hands that can better interact with the world around them.

How it works

Often when we think of making something colorful we think of pigments and dyes, chemicals which absorb some colors and not others. However, that's not the only way - the colors on the surface of a soap bubble, for example, are produced due to interference between light waves. More complex versions of this phenomenon, known as structural color, can be found in nature and are responsible for the colors on bird feathers, butterfly wings, and more. This effect is caused by intricate microscopic structures which manipulate light so that some colors are reflected and others pass through. Morpho essentially consists of artificial structures similar to those found in nature, but created inside an elastic material. When the material is deformed, the structures change their shape, in turn changing the color of light which they reflect.

Design process

Developing this material has been my sole focus for the past five years. The starting point was studying existing, laboratory-scale techniques for making similar materials. However, each one suffered from limitations including high cost, long manufacturing time, low yield, poor color saturation, and a limited design space. Minor refinements to existing techniques were not enough to solve all of these challenges, and I reached a dead end. However, a chance conversation with a colleague about holography, an apparently unrelated subject, made me realize that there might be another approach. By taking concepts from that field and applying them to this problem, I was able to develop a new manufacturing technique that solves many of the above issues. For the past year I've been gradually refining that technique, iterating through different versions of the material that improve its core properties. In addition, I've been expanding the available design space, increasing the number of possible colors, patterns, and mechanical configurations. Finally, I've also been developing prototypes for specific applications, such as color changing bandages that show how much pressure is being applied to a wound.

How it is different

To the best of my knowledge there are currently no commercially available, structurally colored materials that are capable of changing their color when stretched. There are static structurally colored materials available, with some particularly interesting examples in fashion, however the ability to change color is unique. From another perspective, there are many existing solutions for detecting physical forces, but they are mainly electronic. In contrast, the beauty of this approach is that those forces can be seen by eye, with no electronics required. If more quantitative information is needed then a camera can be used - smartphone cameras are ubiquitous, and arguably the most powerful sensors we interact with on a regular basis, therefore mapping physical information to color change is a powerful concept.

Future plans

The next steps include scaling the manufacturing technique to produce continuous rolls of Morpho material up to meters in length, refining the business plan, finalizing the patent protection, and seeking further investment. The most important steps, however, are developing further prototypes for different applications. Color changing bandages work well, the market potential has been identified, and testing is underway. However, design and prototyping for sportswear and robotics applications is still in progress. There are also additional applications still in the concept stage.


Fulbright award, Kennedy Summer Research Scholarship.

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