Iridescence (also known as goniochromism) is the property of certain surfaces that appear to change colour as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes. Examples of iridescence include soap bubbles, butterfly wings and sea shells, as well as certain minerals. It is often created by structural coloration (microstructures which interfere with light).
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Iridescence is an optical phenomenon of surfaces in which hue changes in proportion to the angles of observation and illumination. It is often caused by multiple reflections from two or more semi-transparent surfaces in which phase shift and interference of the reflections modulates the incidental light (by amplifying or attenuating some frequencies more than others). This process, termed thin-film interference, is the functional analogue of selective wavelength attenuation as seen with the Fabry–Pérot interferometer. This is usually seen in plants and animals, soap bubbles, oil films on water, and many other items. In this case, the range of colours will often be rather narrow, usually shifting between two or three colours as the viewing angle changes, while changes in the thickness of the film will produce bands of colours that do not match the rainbow-spectrum, including browns, magentas, purples and blues.
Iridescence can also be created by diffraction. This is found in items like CDs, DVDs, or cloud iridescence. In the case of diffraction, the entire rainbow of colours will typically be observed as the viewing angle changes. Iridescence from diffraction is rare in plants and animals, but does occur in some marine invertebrates, like seed shrimp or Burgess shale fossils. In biology, this type of iridescence results from the formation of diffraction gratings on the surface, such as the long rows of cells in striated muscle or in some types of flower petals.
In biological (and biomimetic) uses, colours produced other than with pigments or dyes are called structural coloration. Microstructures, often multilayered, are used to produce bright but sometimes non-iridescent colours: quite elaborate arrangements are needed to avoid reflecting different colours in different directions. Structural coloration has been understood in general terms since Robert Hooke's 1665 book Micrographia, where Hooke correctly noted that since the iridescence of a peacock's feather was lost when it was plunged into water, but reappeared when it was returned to the air, pigments could not be responsible.
The word iridescence is derived in part from the Greek word ἶρις îris (gen. ἴριδος íridos), meaning rainbow, and is combined with the Latin suffix -escent, meaning "having a tendency toward." Iris in turn derives from the goddess Iris of Greek mythology, who is the personification of the rainbow and acted as a messenger of the gods. Goniochromism is derived from the Greek words gonia, meaning "angle", and chroma, meaning "colour".
Arthropods and molluscs
The iridescent exoskeleton of a golden stag beetle
The inside surface of Haliotis iris, the paua shell
Structurally coloured wings of a Tachinid fly
The feathers of birds such as kingfishers, Birds-of-paradise, hummingbirds, parrots, starlings, grackles, ducks, and peacocks are iridescent. The lateral line on the Neon tetra is also iridescent. A single iridescent species of gecko, Cnemaspis kolhapurensis, was identified in India in 2009. The tapetum lucidum, present in the eyes of many vertebrates, is also iridescent.
Iridescence in meat is caused by light diffraction on the exposed muscle cells on the meat surface.
Minerals and compounds
An engine oil spill
Man made objects
Pearlescent paint job on a Toyota Supra car
Playing surface of a compact disc
iridescent glitter nail polish
- Bioluminescence, irrespective of angle
- Dichroic filter
- Labradorescence (Adularescence)
- Structural color
- Thin-film optics
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