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New laser is from the birds

Light amplification device inspired by brightly colored feathers

The brilliant plumage of bluebirds, blue jays and parrots has inspired a new kind of laser. The device mimics structures in these birds’ feathers that can create color without pigments.

The barbs of these feathers contain tiny pockets of air. Light striking the tightly packed air bubbles scatters, bringing out deep shades of blues and ultraviolet (which birds can see but humans can’t).

“Birds use these structures to create colors that they can’t make in other ways,” says Richard Prum, an  ornithologist at Yale University who discovered the mechanism behind this color.

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