Lasers of a feather

A nifty light trick in bird feathers inspires researchers to create a new kind of laser

By Stephen Ornes, 13:52 PM June 1, 2011

Tiny air bubbles in the feathers of the cotinga bird (illustrated) scatter light, giving the plumage its bright blue color.

Lasers are everywhere: They scan bar codes at the supermarket, they read data from DVDs, and they can even be used to remove unwanted body hair. Scientists have shown that lasers can be built in many different ways — now even by taking cues from animals.

A laser produces a beam of light of a single color. In most modern lasers, light starts bouncing back and forth between mirrors. The space between the mirrors contains a crystal or a gas that adds high-energy photons, or light energy, to ...

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