Home > Press > Bird Feathers Produce Color Through Structure Similar to Beer Foam
|Prum and Dufresne discovered that the nanostructures that produce some birds’ brightly colored plumage, such as the blue feathers of the male Eastern Bluebird, have a sponge-like structure. (Photo: Ken Thomas)|
Some of the brightest colors in nature are created by tiny nanostructures with a structure similar to beer foam or a sponge, according to Yale University researchers.
Bird Feathers Produce Color Through Structure Similar to Beer Foam
New Haven, CT | Posted on April 4th, 2009
Most colors in nature—from the color of our skin to the green of trees—are produced by pigments. But the bright blue feathers found in many birds, such as Bluebirds and Blue Jays, are instead produced by nanostructures. Under an electron microscope, these structures look like sponges with air bubbles.
Now an interdisciplinary team of Yale engineers, physicists and evolutionary biologists has taken a step toward uncovering how these structures form. They compared the nanostructures to examples of materials undergoing phase separation, in which mixtures of different substances become unstable and separate from one another, such as the carbon-dioxide bubbles that form when the top is popped off a bubbly drink. They found that the color-producing structures in feathers appear to self-assemble in much the same manner. Bubbles of water form in a protein-rich soup inside the living cell and are replaced with air as the feather grows.
The research, which appears online in the journal Soft Matter, provides new insight into how organisms use self-assembly to produce color, and has important implications for the role color plays in birds' plumage, as the color produced depends entirely on the precise size and shape of these nanostructures.
"Many biologists think that plumage color can encode information about quality - basically, that a bluer male is a better mate," said Richard Prum, chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and one of the paper's authors. "Such information would have to be encoded in the feather as the bubbles grow. I think our hypothesis that phase separation is involved provides less opportunity for encoding information about quality than most biologists thought. At the same time, it's exciting to think about other ways birds might be using phase separation."
Eric Dufresne, lead author of the paper, is also interested in the potential technological applications of the finding. "We have found that nature elegantly self assembles intricate optical structures in bird feathers. We are now mimicking this approach to make a new generation of optical materials in the lab," said Dufresne, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and physics.
Prum believes it was the interdisciplinary approach the team took that led to their success - a result he plans on celebrating "with another practical application of phase separation: champagne!"
Other authors of the paper include Heeso Noh, Vinodkumar Saranathan, Simon Mochrie Hui Cao (all of Yale University).
Yale University comprises three major academic components: Yale College (the undergraduate program), the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the professional schools. In addition, Yale encompasses a wide array of centers and programs, libraries, museums, and administrative support offices. Approximately 11,250 students attend Yale.
For more information, please click here
Suzanne Taylor Muzzin
Copyright © Yale University
If you have a comment, please Contact
Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.
News and information
Advantest to Exhibit at SEMICON Korea in Seoul, South Korea February 4-6 Showcasing Broad Portfolio of Semiconductor Products, Technologies and Solutions January 29th, 2015
Park Systems Announces Innovations in Bio Cell Analysis with the Launch of Park NX-Bio, the only 3-in-1 Imaging Nanoscale Tool Available for Life Science Researchers January 29th, 2015
2015 Nanonics Image Contest January 29th, 2015
Iranian Scientists Use MOFs to Eliminate Dye Pollutants January 29th, 2015
GS7 Graphene Sensor maybe Solution in Fight Against Cancer January 25th, 2015
Nanotechnology in Energy Applications Market Research Report 2014-2018: Radiant Insights, Inc January 15th, 2015
'Mind the gap' between atomically thin materials December 23rd, 2014
A novel method for identifying the body’s ‘noisiest’ networks November 19th, 2014
Engineering self-assembling amyloid fibers January 26th, 2015
Revealed: How bacteria drill into our cells and kill them December 2nd, 2014
Live Images from the Nano-cosmos: Researchers watch layers of football molecules grow November 5th, 2014
Outsmarting Thermodynamics in Self-assembly of Nanostructures: Berkeley Lab reports method for symmetry-breaking in feedback-driven self-assembly of optical metamaterials November 4th, 2014
The laser pulse that gets shorter all by itself: Ultrashort laser pulses have become an indispensable tool for atomic and molecular research; A new technology makes creating short infrared pulses easy and cheap January 27th, 2015
New pathway to valleytronics January 27th, 2015
Scientists 'bend' elastic waves with new metamaterials that could have commercial applications: Materials could benefit imaging and military enhancements such as elastic cloaking January 23rd, 2015
Teijin to Participate in Nano Tech 2015 January 22nd, 2015