Mind & Matter


New Display Mimics Structural Color in Nature

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New structural color display and its morpho butterfly inspiration. Photo courtesy of KAIST.


Structural color is a natural phenomenon in which color is produced by the optical interference of light rather than by traditional pigments. Familiar examples of the effect include a peacock's brilliant plumage or the eye-catching wings of the morpho butterfly. Materials scientists and manufacturers have been fascinated with this phenomenon, which has the potential to eliminate the need for traditional paints or sealants in manufactured products. Various attempts have been made to recreate these optical effects synthetically—but not without difficulty, given the complex nature of microscopic light interference structures.

Earlier this month, scientists at the Department of Physics and the Graduate School of Nanoscience and Technology at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology published an article in Nature describing their development of a display to emulate the structural color effect in morpho butterfly wings. The technology is made of glass beads that are organized to mimic a naturally occuring structure that is composed of both organized and disorganized layers at nanometer scale. The researchers sealed the layers of glass—which exhibit greater brightness but less color change than the butterfly wings—in thin plastic film for protection. Potential commercial applications include low-power reflective displays as well as security coatings for objects such as currency or mobile phones.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.