Harvard engineers are working on a way to produce color that will never fade. Based on bird feathers, because they don't seem to ever lose their bright hues, they don't get their color from pigments that absorb certain wavelengths and reflect the rest.

Vinothan N. Manoharan, a researcher at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Science who's leading the effort say that bird feathers stay bright because they contain nanostructures that amplify specific wavelengths of light.

Called structural color, it means that the feathers' cells contain a series of tiny pores spaced in a way that they only reflect.

Manoharan's team is recreating this effect in the lab by using microparticles suspended in a solution. When the solution dries out, the microparticles shrink and bring the particles closer together.

Check out the graphic beow and see how a red microscapsule starts out large on the left and shrinks as it dries out, fading into shades of orange, yellow and green:

"We think it could be possible to create a full-color display that won't fade over time," says Manoharan. "The dream is that you could have a piece of flexible plastic that you can put graphics on in full color and read in bright sunlight." Paint and ink that never fade are also a possibility.

The development of such paint is still in the early stages, but one fine day, you'll just be owning something colorful, that will never fade. [Harvard]