Researchers at the University of Akron (UA) in Ohio, in collaboration with scientists at two other universities, have come up with a brand new way to produce every color on the visible spectrum. The scientists produced structural colors using core-shell synthetic melanin nanoparticles. This is different from color created with pigments and it won’t fade with time.
There are two known ways to produce colors, according to an article published by UA. Pigmentary color is produced when molecules absorb light – while structural colors are produced by the “scattering of light by nanostructures.” In simple terms, colors with pigments absorb other colors in the spectrum when exposed to light, while structural colors scatter it much like a prism.
This usually results in an iridescent effect – the color changes as the object or viewer of the object moves – and that is unwanted for many practical applications. However, this new method for creating structural color eliminates the iridescent effect. The new process is said to be fairly simple and inexpensive, and the nanoparticles can be created using either natural or synthetic melanin.
Color Process Inspired by Birds
The researchers took their inspiration from nature, using the colors of the feathers of bright birds like parrots, for example. Dr. Ali Dhinojwaia, a lead scientist in the study and professor of polymer science, said in an article published by UA that “Melanin is an important biomaterial that has so far been underutilized in materials science and technological applications.”
“The chemistry we use to make these particles is based on the main ingredient that goes into making melanin,” he said. “Then we take these melanin particles and self-assemble into a structure using a very straight forward process. It is similar to things we see in our homes, like mixing oil and water together creating emulsions. Those emulsions essentially allow us to assemble these particles into photonic inks which we call photonic supraballs.”
Uses for this New Color Application
The researchers are still working on real-world applications for the new process, but believe it has many potential applications including use in paints, coatings and textiles. Military and defense will likely be one of the first industries to use it, Dhinojwaia told one media outlet. He also said he’d already been contacted by representatives of paint companies and others interested in the technology.
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