Scientists hack berries to make elastic rainbows

Credit: Peter Vukusic

Deep in the wilds of Central and South America there exists a plant. A plant which bears a berry. A berry that mimics another, more nutritious berry and thus gets eaten (every berry's dream) when it is mistaken for the better berry, just like its shiny cousin in Africa. Anyway, this berry, the less-nutritious one, is suitably dubbed the bastard hogberry.

The bastard hogberry the focus of a recent scientific breakthrough. Scientists from Harvard and the University of Exeter studied the bastard hogberry, ultimately cracking into its cellular secrets. Then, in a move right out of The 6 Million Dollar Man, they rebuilt the bastard hogberry's structures, making them better, stronger, and faster.

The scientific team discovered that the upper cells in the bastard hogberry's skin contain a curved, repeating pattern that creates color by causing light waves to interfere with themselves. The uniform cylindrical fashion in which these cells sit atop each other also plays a role in the colors they generate. It was this pair of structural idiosyncrasies that the teams were able to isolate and replicate in the lab. The scientists then created a thin, layered polymer with similar properties and coated elastic fibers with it. The stretching of these fibers creates variations in the alignment of the nano-scale structures within the synthesized bastard hogberry polymer, in turn changing how it refracts light.

And boom. We now have elastic, color-changing rainbow fabric that sports a "color-tuning range exceeding by an order of magnitude anything that has been reported for thermally drawn fibers." Somewhere, the 1980s are cheering. I can sense it.

Harvard, via ScienceDaily

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