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Coherent light scattering by blue feather barbs

Abstract

The structural colours of avian feather barbs are created by the scattering of light from the spongy matrix of keratin and air in the medullary layer of the barbs1,5. However, the precise physical mechanism for the production of these colours is still controversial1,3,4,6. Here we use a two-dimensional (2D) Fourier analysis of the spatial variation in refractive index of the blue feather barbs of the plum-throated cotinga (Cotinga maynana, Cotingidae) to show that the colour is produced by constructive interference between light waves scattered coherently by the nanostructured keratin-air matrix of the barbs.

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Figure 1: Two-dimensional Fourier power spectrum and observed and predicted reflectance spectra of a blue feather barb of Cotinga maynana.

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Prum, R., Torres, R., Williamson, S. et al. Coherent light scattering by blue feather barbs. Nature 396, 28–29 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1038/23838

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