Bio-Inspired Structural Colors Produced via Self-Assembly of Synthetic Melanin Nanoparticles

ACS Nano. 2015 May 26;9(5):5454-60. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.5b01298. Epub 2015 May 12.


Structural colors arising from interactions of light with submicron scale periodic structures have been found in many species across all taxa, serving multiple biological functions including sexual signaling, camouflage, and aposematism. Directly inspired by the extensive use of self-assembled melanosomes to produce colors in avian feathers, we set out to synthesize and assemble polydopamine-based synthetic melanin nanoparticles in an effort to fabricate colored films. We have quantitatively demonstrated that synthetic melanin nanoparticles have a high refractive index and broad absorption spanning across the UV-visible range, similar to natural melanins. Utilizing a thin-film interference model, we demonstrated the coloration mechanism of deposited films and showed that the unique optical properties of synthetic melanin nanoparticles provide advantages for structural colors over other polymeric nanoparticles (i.e., polystyrene colloidal particles).

Keywords: bio-inspired; biomimicry; melanin; polydopamine; structural colors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomimetics / methods*
  • Birds
  • Feathers
  • Indoles / chemistry
  • Melanins / chemical synthesis*
  • Melanins / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Pigmentation*
  • Polymers / chemistry


  • Indoles
  • Melanins
  • Polymers
  • polydopamine