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
Transparent Conductive Films and Sensors Are Hot Segments in Printed Electronics: Start-ups in these fields show above-average momentum, while companies working on emissive displays such as OLED are fading, Lux Research says April 17th, 2014
Harris & Harris Group Continues Its Blog Series to Highlight Most Impactful Portfolio Companies With Champions Oncology, Inc. April 17th, 2014
'Life Redesigned: The Emergence of Synthetic Biology' Lecture at Brookhaven Lab on Wednesday, April 30: Biomedical Engineer James Collins to Speak for BSA Distinguished Lecture Series April 16th, 2014
ECHA Planning Workshop on Regulatory Challenges in the Risk Assessment of Nanomaterials April 16th, 2014
Virus structure inspires novel understanding of onion-like carbon nanoparticles April 10th, 2014
Local girl does good March 22nd, 2014
Surface Characteristics Influence Cellular Growth on Semiconductor Material March 12th, 2014
The "Tipping Point" February 12th, 2014
Roomy cages built from DNA: Self-assembling cages are the largest standalone 3-D DNA structures yet, and could one day deliver drugs, or house tiny bioreactors or photonic devices March 13th, 2014
Cypress’s TrueTouch® Touchscreen Controllers Compatible with Cima NanoTech’s SANTE® Silver Nanoparticle-Based Touch Sensors: Supporting Designs for Advanced Touch Applications March 5th, 2014
Coupled carbon and peptide nanotubes achieved for the first time: twins nanotubes March 1st, 2014
A potentially revolutionnary material: Scientists produce a novel form of artificial graphene February 15th, 2014
Scientists Capture Ultrafast Snapshots of Light-Driven Superconductivity: X-rays reveal how rapidly vanishing 'charge stripes' may be behind laser-induced high-temperature superconductivity April 16th, 2014
Lumerical files a provisional patent that extends the standard eigenmode expansion propagation technique to better address waveguide component design. Lumerical’s EME propagation tool will address a wide set of waveguide applications in silicon photonics and integrated optics April 16th, 2014
Near-field Nanophotonics Workshop in Boston April 14th, 2014
Scientists in Singapore develop novel ultra-fast electrical circuits using light-generated tunneling currents April 10th, 2014