There's a reason that things like butterfly wings and peacock feathers are so colorful. It's because their surfaces are covered with microscopic structures that reflect visible light in such a way that it appears as vivid colors like turquoise or green. Blue tarantulas also possess this quality, although as an international team of scientists recently discovered, they've put their own special spin on it … and it could find use in human technology.
With butterfly wings and other surfaces that exhibit structural coloration, the effect is usually iridescent – the colors change when viewed from different angles. While it's certainly an aesthetically-pleasing look, a manmade version wouldn't work for applications in which you wanted the color to stay the same all the time.
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That's where the blue tarantula comes in. It always appears to be the same color, no matter the viewing angle.
The researchers believed that this reduction in iridescence was likely due to the flower-like cross-sectional shape of the ends of the spider's hairs. They tested this hypothesis both with computer models, and with physical models built via nano-3D printing. What they ended up with was a non-iridescent structurally colored surface with a 160-degree viewing angle – that's better than anything that scientists have created previously.
"These structural colorants could be used as pigment replacements – many of which are toxic – in materials such as plastics, metal, textiles and paper, and for producing color for wide-angle viewing systems such as phones and televisions," says study leader Bor-Kai (Bill) Hsiung, of The University of Akron.
Also taking part in the study were scientists from Ghent University (Belgium), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
Source: The University of Akron