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Campus Currents
Chocolate Eaters are Thinner
Fallen Star
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Piranah-Proof Armor
A Second Geisel
Squid Holodeck
Fighting Fire in Space
The Elusive God Particle
Cool Music in Hot Iceland
Digging in the Digital Domain

Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Squid Holodeck

Sea animals such as octopuses and squids (cephalopods) possess the ability to quickly camouflage themselves. By swiftly modulating their skin’s texture, reflectivity and color, they blend into their environment to avoid predators.

Researching the camouflage dynamics of these animals can be tricky. So how do scientists study their behaviors up close? They build a holodeck, of course. Not the virtual reality holodeck popularized in the fictional Star Trek universe, but a “Sub Sea Holodeck.”

Jules Jaffe and his colleagues at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego built an immersive virtual environment, consisting of an aquarium, plasma screens and various projection displays, to elicit and record cephalopod skin changes. A California Two-Spot Octopus inside the Sub Sea Holodeck, for example, exhibited a normal, light brown color while being shown a blank gray screen. But when confronted with a picture of a threatening predatory fish, it immediately adjusted its skin color to a deep dark brown, hoping to be invisible in a dimly sunlit world.

Jaffe and his colleagues eventually hope to not only understand the environmental aspects of the camouflage response but also the molecular and biophysical mechanisms governing the rapid changes in their skin.

—Mario C. Aguilera, ’89