BioInspiration: Making Colours with your Five a Day

Free Public Lecture

BioInspiration: Making Colours with your Five a Day

Over millions of years of evolution, living things have developed complex structures to manipulate light without any pigment, using only transparent materials. This so-called structural colour is responsible for the most intense reflections found in nature and is found in almost every kind of living thing, from mother-of-pearl, to peacock feathers and iridescent green beetles. Humans use artificial structural colorants in everything from paints to bank notes, but these are often made from chemicals and plastics that fade over time and can't be recycled.

In the lab at the University of Cambridge, researchers study how living organisms use simple biological 'building blocks' – such as cellulose in plants or keratin in bird feathers and human hair – to produce every imaginable colour and visual effect. We show how these highly abundant, biodegradable and non-toxic biomaterials can be used to produce bioinspired, eco-friendly colorants. Come and sample our structurally coloured cellulose – it’s edible!


  • Dr Silvia Vignolini
    Dr Silvia Vignolini, University of Cambridge