OSU scientists have unraveled what makes black pigment—the same pigment that colors our skin and gives bananas their spots as they ripen. They used eumelanin, which creates brown and black colors. While scientists have long known what melanin does for the body (protecting DNA from sun damage, destroying free radicals in the body, etc) they didn’t know one of the most basic things about it. What gives it its color?
Scientists, basically, unmixed the color black to reveal its underlying colors. Understanding the melanin on this level could lead to all kinds of discoveries in both medical and material science.
Like DNA’s double helix, scientists needed to know that is how DNA was structured before they could know much else about it, melanin is the same.
Like a kid playing with paints combining a few colors at a time will result in secondary colors. Mix them all and the child would end up with a deep, muddy, black color. Scientists needed to know all the molecules of color that are in it.
They found that the molecules that make up eumelanin are like radio stations. Each station broadcasts over a limited frequency in the spectrum. Each molecule that makes up the eumelanin are like a radio station, absorbing light from just a part of the spectrum. So how many stations are out there, they wondered? Are there a bunch of them all absorbing just a tiny part of the light spectrum or just a few that absorb a larger portion each?
Understanding the structure of “black” in this way will allow scientists to know on a deeper level how the eumelanin works in the body for medical purposes and how they might use these “radio station” molecules in manufacturing new materials.