Biologist Nipam Patel and his team at UC Berkeley study how butterflies develop wing shape and color by performing surgery on caterpillars, creating translucent windows in their cocoons.
Each wing is made up of tens or hundreds of thousands of tiny scales, arranged like pixels in a digital image to produce an astounding array of colorful patterns. But not all colors are created equal. While many are derived from pigments, some, like the iridescent blue of the beautiful blue morpho butterfly, are created by the reflection and refraction of light. These so-called "structural colors" are the result of nano-scale structures on the wing scales—structures smaller than a single wavelength of light—that dictate the colors that ultimately reach our eyes.
Fun fact: Lepidopterology is their field, and a person who studies or collects butterflies and moths is a lepidopterist.