Locked within the beautiful blue plumes of a blue jay or common kingfisher is the solution to a physical mystery. Ornithologists and physicists have discovered that these non-iridescent azure hues are created by the intricate, spongelike nano-architecture of the birds’ feathers. “These structural colors never fade with time,” says Vinod Saranathan of Oxford University. By mimicking these natural templates, engineers can create myriad applications, from eco-friendly, nontoxic dyes and cosmetics to lasers and more efficient fiber-optic cables. 

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