The Color of Droplets

In nature, color comes from many sources: like the pigmentation of skin and hair, the structural iridescence of a butterfly’s wings, or the refraction of a rainbow from water droplets. Recently, scientists discovered another source of brilliant color in simple, hemispherical water droplets.

When small droplets form on a transparent surface, they form concave shapes capable of total internal reflection. This means that two light rays entering from the same angle can follow different paths inside the droplet. After reflecting several times, the light rays exit the droplet with a phase difference and how large that phase difference is determines the color. Check out the video below for some brightly colored examples of the effect. The researchers hope the technique will eventually be suitable for creating dye-free, color-changing technologies. (Image credit: F. Frankel; video credit: MIT News; research credit: A. Goodling et al.)

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