Feathers May Yield Better and Brighter Everyday Colors

Technology could improve hues with the help of birds.

Bird feathers may just revolutionize the colors you paint your walls or even that glow on your Kindle.

Richard Prum, an ornithology professor at Yale, is working on replicating the process that creates nanoscale beta keratin structures found in the feathers of blue jays (above) and bluebirds. The keratin forms tiny air bubbles that reflect light and give rise to certain colors. Re-creating this process could produce longer-lasting wall paints or color screens for e-readers, says Prum.

Unlike the structures that give hummingbird feathers their iridescence, these keratin arrangements produce colors that don’t change with the angle of the light that hits them. This new color-creation method will also be more environmentally friendly, says optics expert Hui Cao, who collaborates with Prum. The research could give a whole new meaning to “true blue.”

This story originally ran in the November-December 2013 issue as "True Blue."

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