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TIMESTAMPS
  • 00:06
    What does it mean to be blue? The wings of a morpho butterfly are some of the most beautiful structures in nature, and yet they contain no blue pigment.
  • 00:16
    Artists use paint, dyes and ink to make their creations. Nature draws on a palette of biological pigments, also known as biochromes.
  • 00:26
    But there's another way of producing color. It's called "structural color." And it harnesses the physics of light at the nanoscale.
  • 00:36
    Nipam Patel's lab at UC Berkeley is studying how morpho butterflies form the special structures that cover their wings -- scales -- while still inside the pupae.
  • 00:48
    Morphos live mostly in the tropics. When resting, they fold their wings up, showing their dark earth-toned undersides.
  • 00:55
    The brown, yellow and black colors are generated by pigments.
  • 01:01
    But the other side is all about structural color. It gives their wings a vibrant, iridescent blue hue.
  • 01:11
    Each scale is like a pixel, a tiny tile in a larger mosaic in layers of overlapping rows.
  • 01:18
    Researchers want to see how structural color takes shape on the wings, but normally this happens inside the pupae, which is opaque. So they've figured out how to remove the morpho wings from the pupae and grow the wings in a Petri dish.
  • 01:32
    Just like a developing photograph, patterns and colors slowly appear on the ghostly white wings as each scale's surface transforms over time.
  • 01:45
    Ridges on the scales' surface are a key component that affect how the wing spreads -- or refracts -- light, similar to a prism.
  • 01:53
    When light hits these ridges, a phenomena called constructive interference comes into play.
  • 01:58
    The spacing within the ridges -- which look like little Christmas trees -- perfectly reinforces specific wavelengths while canceling out others. This is why your eyes perceive that shimmering blue.
  • 01:59
    Close up of ridges that produce blue
  • 02:11
    Scientists aren't sure why, but vertebrates and plants rarely produce blue as a pigment.
  • 02:16
    For some reason, it's a pigment you don't see much of in nature.
  • 02:20
    So think of structural color as an evolutionary work-around -- a way of producing brilliant blues at a nano level. Not just on butterfly wings, but on feathers, beetles -- even our own bodies.

What Gives the Morpho Butterfly Its Magnificent Blue?

What does it mean to be blue? The wings of a Morpho butterfly are some of the most brilliant structures in nature, and yet they contain no blue pigment -- they harness the physics of light at the nano






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