The wild physics of superblack "bird of paradise" feathers

Originally published at:


Noone tell Anish Kapoor, who will buy all the birds of paradise. (Seriously, the guy’s a brilliant sculptor - but you know…)


This is the tech that the custom shop that did Hotblack Desiato’s ship used.


Examples of normal and super black feather microstructure. a SEM micrograph of Lycocorax pyrrhopterus normal black feather with typical barbule morphology; scale bar, 200 µm. b SEM micrograph of Parotia wahnesi super black feather with modified barbule arrays; scale bar, 50 µm. c Gold sputter-coated normal black breast feather of Melampitta lugubris appears gold. d Gold sputter-coated super black breast feather of Ptiloris paradiseus retains a black appearance indicating structural absorption. SEM stubs are 12.8 mm in diameter.


Same basic principle as platinum black: platinum powder (nano-particles) that reflects light obliquely deeper into the aggregate where it bounces around never to escape. Been known since at least the 1930s (says /me, recalling SF from the period.) You get the same result from aluminum, but less efficient.


I wonder if that makes them fly less efficiently? If it helped, I would assume all feathers would eventually get that way. These birds are a textbook example of sexual selection in action (the mating dance decides who gets to reproduce, it’s very complicated, etc.)


Isn’t it amazing when nature just perfectly copies new technology? I wonder how it does that?

1 Like

Doubtful. The microstructures of the feather are unique. The macrostructure is still a wing. I think it’s akin to making a 5 lb bike frame out of aluminum or an aluminum alloy. Still a bike. Still 5 lbs. From an evolutionary POV, if it were a disadvantage, they wouldn’t have survived. From an efficiently POV I’d doubt it’s a significant disadvantage.

I don’t care how brilliant a sculptor he is. I just don’t. I will not like the guy.

Physics is always wild.
And free.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.