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Go Blue!

from Quanta Magazine

How Animals Color Themselves With Nanoscale Structures

Animals sculpt the optical properties of their tissues at the nanoscale to give themselves “structural colors.” New work is piecing together how they do it.

by Viviane Callier

A pair of photographs showing a blue morpho butterfly and a close-up detail of its blue wing.
The stunning blue iridescence of the blue morpho butterfly results from the way that structures in its wing scales diffract and reflect blue light while absorbing other parts of the spectrum.

Peacocks, panther chameleons, scarlet macaws, clown fish, toucans, blue-ringed octopuses and so many more: The animal kingdom has countless denizens with extraordinarily colorful beauty. But in many cases, scientists know much more about how the animals use their colors than how they make them. New work continues to reveal those secrets, which often depend on the fantastically precise self-assembly of minuscule features in and on the feathers, scales, hair and skin — a fact that makes the answers intensely interesting to soft matter physicists and engineers in the photonics industry.

Many of the colors seen in nature, particularly in the plant kingdom, are produced by pigments, which reflect a portion of the light spectrum while absorbing the rest. Green pigments like chlorophyll reflect the green part of the spectrum but absorb the longer red and yellow wavelengths as well as the shorter blue ones. Which specific wavelengths get reflected or absorbed depends on the pigment’s molecular makeup and the exact distances between the atoms in its molecular structures.

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Posted on June 16, 2021 by Editor

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