Not Fade Away

Let’s talk turkey – about laundry?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Our clothes are colored with dyes that work by absorbing light. That is, they soak UP certain colors, and reflect BACK the ones we see. But sadly, pigments aren’t permanent. After a few dozen washes, your favorite Aloha shirt has faded! Is there a longer-lasting alternative to using dyes?

Enter Ming Xiao at the University of Akron. Inspired by the shiny glow of a turkey in full plumage, he and colleagues created structural colors. What exactly IS structural color? Glad you asked!

Rather than ABSORBING light, microscopic structures cause light to bounce around in different directions. Like a turkey’s feathers, which change color as it struts by.

Xiao created balls of synthetic melanin, the pigment that colors our skin. Then he wrapped each ball in a shell of silica. Basically, the stuff that makes up sand. This changes the path of light through the ball, creating a spectrum of bright, non-toxic hues! Mash these new structures into powders, and voila! Brilliant, lasting colors for your clothes!

These colors don’t run, unless you’re entering this year’s Turkey Trot!