Latest in Science

Image credit:

Exotic bird inspires cheaper light-based camouflage design

"Structured coloration" could give you an impossible-to-chip paint job.
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
November 24, 2016
Share
Tweet
Share

Sponsored Links

David Hallett/Getty Images

Colors usually come from pigments or dyes, but are also created when light is refracted and reflected by microscopic structures. Those iridescent hues, known as "structural coloration," are often seen in nature on bird or butterfly wings. While durable and potentially useful for military and industrial applications, it's difficult and pricey to produce. However, Harvard University researchers have developed a robust and inexpensive way to build materials with structural coloring that could be used for camouflage, solar cells and optical switches.

Peacock feathers have the classic iridescent structural coloring, but the Harvard team was inspired by a different bird, the excellently-named Plum-throated Cotinga. Unlike the peacock, it gets its vibrant hues "from a disordered and porous nanonetwork of keratin that looks like a sponge or piece of coral," the team says. That pattern cancels red and yellow wavelengths out, amplifying its distinctive bright turquoise color.

The Harvard team used the relative chaos of the Cotinga's feather structure to its advantage. Using a simple etching technique, they created a "complex but random porous nanonetwork in a metallic alloy," then coated it with a thin transparent alumina layer (above). Depending on the coating thickness, the metallic alloy can create a gradient of colors ranging from blue (33-nanometers) to yellow (53 nanometers).

The team can change the color at whim just by varying the coating, which is both lightweight and scratch-proof. Just for starters, it could be used as lightweight color coatings for cars, biomimetic tissues used to test drugs and camouflage materials for the military (the research was sponsored by the US Air Force). "This system paves the way for large-scale and extremely robust metamaterials that interact with light in really interesting ways," says paper co-author Henning Galinski.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Comment
Comments
Share
Tweet
Share

Popular on Engadget

NVIDIA apologizes for RTX 3080 order chaos

NVIDIA apologizes for RTX 3080 order chaos

View
You’ll need more than $299 to truly enjoy next-gen gaming

You’ll need more than $299 to truly enjoy next-gen gaming

View
Facebook's Infinite Office is a virtual office space for the WFH crowd

Facebook's Infinite Office is a virtual office space for the WFH crowd

View
Apple iPad (2020) hands-on: A better kind of basic

Apple iPad (2020) hands-on: A better kind of basic

View
Confused about which console to buy? Just wait.

Confused about which console to buy? Just wait.

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr