Scientists do away with dye by mimicking birds' coloured feathers

An African Starling shows off its vibrant, iridescent structural colors produced by ordered melanosomes.

Scientists have found a way to create coloured fabrics using the structural patterns of birds' wings rather than dye.

Structural colour occurs through the interaction of light with materials that have patterns on a tiny scale, which reflect light to make some wavelengths brighter and others darker. Because of this, the colour should never fade.

Biologist Matthew Shawkey, Ali Dhinojwala and Ming Xiao of the University of Akron, recently published a paper the journal ACS Nano, based on a joint project with the University of California, San Diego.

Shawkey and his team sought to produce synthetic particles that mimic the tiny packets of melanin found in feathers.

These tiny packets of synthetic melanin produce structural colour when they are packed into layers.

"Pigments are both financially and environmentally costly, and can only change colour by fading," says Shawkey. "Structural colours can, in theory, be produced from more common, environmentally friendly materials and could potentially be changed depending on the environment or your whims."

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