Vukusic and his collaborators at Harvard studied the structural origin of the seed's vibrant color. They discovered that the upper cells in the seed's skin contain a curved, repeating pattern, which creates color through the interference of light waves. (A similar mechanism is responsible for the bright colors of soap bubbles.) The team's analysis revealed that multiple layers of cells in the seed coat are each made up of a cylindrically layered architecture with high regularity on the nano- scale.
The team replicated the key structural elements of the fruit to create flexible, stretchable and color-changing photonic fibers using an innovative roll-up mechanism perfected in the Harvard laboratories.
"For our artificial structure, we cut down the complexity of the fruit to just its key elements," explains Kolle. "We use very thin fibers and wrap a polymer bilayer around them. That gives us the refractive index contrast, the right number of layers, and the curved, cylindrical cross-section that we need to produce these vivid colors."
The researchers say that the process could be scaled up and developed to suit industrial production.
"Our fiber-rolling technique allows the use of a wide range of materials, especially elastic ones, with the color-tuning range exceeding by an order of magnitude anything that has been reported for thermally drawn fibers," says coauthor Joanna Aizenberg, Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at Harvard SEAS, and Kolle's adviser. Aizenberg is also Director of the Kavli Institute for Bionano Science and Technology at Harvard and a Core Faculty Member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.
The fibers' superior mechanical properties, combined with their demonstrated color brilliance and tunability, ma
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