The striking appearance of the Eurasian Jay owes much to its beautiful striped feathers. What’s interesting about these is that the colours of the feathers are not produced by a pigment – instead they are a result of an optical interference effect arising from the sub-micron structure created in the cells that form the feather. We’ve studied this structure – and analogous structures from beetle scales - using synchrotron x-ray radiation, and we find that these structures are characteristic of a process of controlled phase separation. This is one example of the way biological systems create order and structure out of the random, Brownian environment of the cell; the question we now need to answer is to what extent can we learn from these very different design principles when we make synthetic systems?
Richard Jones is a Professor of Physics at the University of Sheffield. His first degree and PhD in Physics both come from Cambridge University, and following postdoctoral work at Cornell University, U.S.A., he was a lecturer at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory. In 1998 he moved to the University of Sheffield. He is an experimental physicist who specialises in elucidating the nanoscale structure and properties of polymers and biological macromolecules at interfaces. In 2006 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 2009 he won the Tabor Medal of the UK’s Institute of Physics for his contributions to nanoscience.