Interdisciplinary work
The Mathematics, Nanostructure, and Evolution of
Color-Producing Biological Arrays

Richard O. Prum and Rodolfo H. Torres

Publications Media Coverage Contact Information

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This interdisciplinary work is devoted to the study of the anatomy and nanostructure of structurally colored tissues of living organisms, and to the analysis of the physical and mathematical modeling of the optical phenomena that produce such coloration. The mathematical tools employed relate to the understanding of quasi-order in physical and geometrical configurations through Fourier analysis techniques. The methods applied follow in part an electromagnetic scattering theoretical model described by G. Benedek (Theory of transparency of the eye, Applied Optics, 1971). The Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) of transmission electron micrographs of biological tissues is employed to characterize the spatial periodicity in variation in refractive index of nanostructured material.
The analysis of evolutionary transitions among nanostructural classes and their forms of coloration have important implications for the study of the function of such biological arrays in communication, mate selection, and other research areas in biology.

Non-technical description of this work and related ones can be found in the following media coverage and related topics
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Lawrence Journal World

University News

Science on Line

Science Magazine

Nature (article)

Nature (Science Update)

Nature, Photonic structures in Biology

Nature (UV News Feature)

New York Times


Contact Information

  • Richard O. Prum, William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology
  • Mail: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
    Peabody Museum of Natural History
    Yale University
    Box 208105
    New Haven, CT 06520-8105
  • Office: Environmental Science Center (ESC) 164
  • Phone: (203) 432-9423
  • Fax: (203) 432-5176
  • E-mail:
  • URL:
  • Rodolfo H. Torres, Professor of Mathematics
  • Mail: Department of Mathematics
    University of Kansas
    405 Snow Hall
    1460 Jayhawk Blvd
    Lawrence, KS 66045
  • Office: 623 Snow Hall
  • Phone: (785) 864-7310
  • Fax: (785) 864-5255
  • E-mail:
  • URL:

Support and Disclaimer

This research has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation under the following Grants: DEB-9318273, DMS-9696267, DMS-0070514, DBI-0078376, DMS-0112375, DMS-0400423

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.