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Borrowing from brightly-colored birds: Physicists develop lasers inspired by nature
Date:10/12/2011

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 -- Researchers at Yale University are studying how two types of nanoscale structures on the feathers of birds produce brilliant and distinctive colors. The researchers are hoping that by borrowing these nanoscale tricks from nature they will be able to produce new types of lasersones that can assemble themselves by natural processes. The team will present their findings at the Optical Society's (OSA) Annual Meeting, Frontiers in Optics (FiO) 2011 (http://www.frontiersinoptics.com/), taking place in San Jose, Calif. next week.

Many of the colors displayed in nature are created by nanoscale structures that scatter light strongly at specific frequencies. In some cases, these structures create iridescence, where colors change with the angle of viewlike the shifting rainbows on a soap bubble. In other cases, the hues produced by the structures are steady and unchanging. The mechanism by which angle-independent colors are produced stumped scientists for 100 years: at first glance, these steady hues appeared to have been produced by a random jumble of proteins. But when researchers zoomed in on small sections of the protein at a time, quasi-ordered patterns began to emerge. The scientists found that it is this short-range order that scatters light preferentially at specific frequencies to produce the distinctive hues of a bluebird's wings, for example.

Inspired by feathers, the Yale physicists created two lasers that use this short-range order to control light. One model is based on feathers with tiny spherical air cavities packed in a protein called beta-keratin. The laser based on this model consists of a semiconductor membrane full of tiny air holes that trap light at certain frequencies. Quantum dots embedded between the holes amplify the light and produce the coherent beam that is the hallmark of a laser. The researchers also built a network laser using a series of interconn
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Contact: Angela Stark
astark@osa.org
202-416-1443
Optical Society of America
Source:Eurekalert  

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