August 26, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Feather Technology Resurrected in Printer After 40 Million Years

A fossil bird feather from Germany still shows that melanosomes – the cell organelles that produce iridescent colors in feathers – are still visible after an alleged 40 million years.  The structures were long thought to be remnants of bacteria that fed on the organic matter, but now are seen to consist of original feather material.  Derek Briggs of Yale said, “The discovery of ultra-structural detail in feather fossils opens up remarkable possibilities for the investigation of other features in soft-bodied fossils, like fur and even internal organs.”
    Meanwhile, engineers are starting to invent things based on the light-scattering properties of these structures that produce such bright colors on the feathers of birds and the wings of butterflies.  New Scientist reported on the invention of “magic ink” by South Korean scientists.  The ink works by the “interaction of light with finely-patterned surface textures, rather than relying on pigments.”  Using nanoparticles, magnetic fields, resin and a fixer, they produce “structural colors” whose brilliance relies on the interference patterns produced by reflection off repetitive shapes.  This is the same principle that produces the flashy colors on birds, insects, and sometimes even fossil feathers.

If you believe those fossil melanosomes have sat undisturbed for 40 million years, you probably also could believe that magic ink is really magical.  Once irrationality is chosen, it knows no limits.

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Categories: Biomimetics, Birds, Fossils

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