exploring colour with art and synchrotron radiation

NeuTron Spin (production still) Virtual Reality environment in which neutrons interact with photonic structure from Cyphochilus beetle, created for The University of Sheffield Festival of the Mind 2018 © Paul Evans and Human

The artist Paul Evans is working with researchers from the University of Sheffield Department of Physics to help engage people of all ages with cutting edge science and colour.

Our plan is to inform and explain – in a series of interactive and artistic forms – the nanoscale* biological structures responsible for structural colour that we have studied using STFC funded facilities.

*The word nanoscale usually refers to structures with a length scale of 1–100 nanometers – a nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

We have used x-ray scattering* and recently x-ray nanotomography* to improve our understanding at the ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) in Grenoble, France. Our analysis of this data has enabled us to model and recover the important structural elements that give rise to these interesting colours.

* X-ray scattering techniques are non-destructive, analytical methods which reveal information about the crystal structure, chemical composition and physical properties of materials and thin films. These techniques are based on observing the scattering of an X-ray beam hitting a sample of the material under investigation.

**Nanotomography uses x-rays to create cross-sections from a 3D-object that can be used to recreate a virtual model without destroying the original material. The term nano is used to indicate that the pixel sizes of the cross-sections are in the nanometer range

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