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Inspiration From Nature’s Structure: Coloration Of Bird’s Feathers

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With the advancement in technology and the enhancement of biological knowledge over time, many scientists and researchers extract numerous design ideas and methodologies from the preexisting nature structures. Biomimicry has evolved as a vital field of study to make sustainable advancement in technology by adapting nature’s principles into engineering application. Many living organisms (example, birds, butterflies, etc.) have a complicated but dexterously arranged structures which manipulates the light by scattering and absorbing from their intricate spatial arrangement. This biological arrangement has stirred designers to exploit the mechanism for suitable applications in engineering [1], [2].

Scientists have made various studies to reverse-engineer the science behind the exuberance of the feather color patterns and have established that the photonic crystals and nanofibers arranged in highly intricate arrays to produce colors. The feathers contain organized micro-/nanoscopic layers, which contain condensed materials capable of scattering light which are embedded inside of a matrix of another substance. The arrangement of the layers (or rods) are in such a way that the distance between each layer is about the same as the wavelength of the visible wavelengths. The stacks of layers cause diffraction; where the reflected waves with different angle of reflection interfere with each other. Light waves of the same wavelength interfere constructively as they bounce off consecutive layers in the stack which increases the corresponding color of the resulting reflected light [2]. This so-known phenomenon, structural coloration can be potential implementation in many applications such as biomimetic tissues, solar rays, adaptive camouflage, display signs/screens etc.

STUDY I: Qualcomm’s smartwatch with Mirasol display

The US processor manufacturer, Qualcomm mimicked the ‘structural coloration’ as Mirasol display technology based on the reflecting technology which involves controlling of the interference of light waves with different wavelength against each other – Interferometric MODulation (IMOD). Inspired from butterfly’s wings and peacock’s feathers which has an interesting ability of trapping and emphasizing the incident light to produce an iridescent shine; the concept of Mirasol technology uses low energy providing bright display even at direct sunlight. The display based on this technology i.e., optical interference, was successful in smartwatches and mobile screen displays. An array of interferometric modulators typically microscopic mirrors, which reflect color. Unlike conventional screens such as LCD which emits its own light, the Mirasol technology powers the light by automatically scaling with the ambient light [4], [5], [6].

This technology is further applied to various other applications where the vivid colors are of significant importance, such as paint. Comprehensive studies have made on the application of Mirasol technology on paints to give the walls a bright color feature [7].

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STUDY II: Solar surface inspired by butterfly’s wings

The trapping light ability of butterfly’s wings has sparked the interest of many researchers to apply the strategy to produce efficient solar surfaces that can absorb light to produce more efficient solar energy technology. Researchers from University of Pennsylvania and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid have applied this mechanism to nanomaterials because of its versatile applications. These nanomaterials can be of significant use in solar industry because of their ‘optically active structures’ capable of distorting, diverting, and absorbing light waves at different angles prove to be more effective and efficient than the existing solar panels. Such structures would prove more effective in areas of building optical sensors and miniature cameras for automobiles, mobile phones, and security cameras [8].

Another study from the researchers at Shanghai Jiaotong University has shown the mimicking of these light absorbing structures to create an ultrathin amorphous carbon film which can be of great use as an anti-reflecting coating for optical instruments, solar cells, thermal detectors and sensors, etc. The source of inspiration, birdwing butterfly having black regions on its wings with overlapping scales. The composition of these scales is found to have inverted V-type ridges which is capable of near full absorption of the incident light by effectively reducing reflection as well as maintaining the transmission at low rates. This makes it suitable for solar energy collection. The amorphous carbon film which is made of nitrogen and hydrogen with no long-range crystalline chains, mimics the composite substance of the butterfly’s wings made of chitin and melanin [9].

STUDY III: Biomimetic photonic metamaterials inspired from bird’s feathers

The feathers ability to reflect and produce some robust colors is because of their structural arrangement of melanin pellets in arrays and layers which play with the incident light acting as reflectors and absorbers. Researchers have developed a method to mimic the features to create a metamaterial with same properties by considering four parameters (i.e., refractive index, size of the pellets, arrangement and the intensity of blackness) which influence the robust structural color and scattering abilities. The biomimetic material resembling melanin; polydopamine (PDA) with core shell particles made of polystyrene [10]. The surface of this material is lightweight, scratch and corrosion resistant which can be used in wide range of commercial applications such as automobile parts, camouflage etc. [11].


With wide inspirations and ideas from nature, the implementation of the mechanisms in engineering is cost and effective. Hence not every biological aspect can be mimicked in engineering. Proper understanding of nature’s mechanism and reverse engineering plays a vital role in biomimetics.


  1. Stephanie Watson, University of Minnesota; “Implications: A Newsletter by InformeDesign”; Vol 02 Issue 04
  2. Ball P (2012), “Nature’s Fantastical Palette: Color from Structure”, Sci. Am. 306(5), 74-79.
  3. Suntrana (Tran) Smyth Physics, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, “What Makes Peacock Feathers Colorful?”, National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility, Cornell University
  4. How Biomimicry is Inspiring Human Innovation. (2012, September 01). Retrieved from
  5. Heimbuch, J. (2018, October 11). Qualcomm’s Upcoming e-Reader Will Mimic Butterfly Wings for Energy-Sipping Color Displays. Retrieved from
  6. Mirasol display technology. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  7. McKeag, T. (2011, September 27). What Qualcomm’s Butterfly-Inspired Display Could Do for Your Paint. Retrieved from
  8. Tobinhack. (2018, October 06). Biomimicry: Butterfly Wings Could Inspire Next Gen Solar Power. Retrieved from
  9. Butterfly-inspired solar surface. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  10. Kawamura, A., Kohri, M., Morimoto, G., Nannichi, Y., Taniguchi, T., & Kishikawa, K. (2016, September 23). Full-Color Biomimetic Photonic Materials with Iridescent and Non-Iridescent Structural Colors. DOI:

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Inspiration From Nature’s Structure: Coloration Of Bird’s Feathers. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“Inspiration From Nature’s Structure: Coloration Of Bird’s Feathers.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022,
Inspiration From Nature’s Structure: Coloration Of Bird’s Feathers. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
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