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1. In butterflies, a colorless, translucent membrane, covered by a layer of microscopic scales, is hit with sunlight. Light hitting the wing interacts with light reflecting off the wing, much like a prism.
2. Light passes through the membrane. As the butterfly's wings flap, sunlight refracts at different wavelengths. The waves of light turn color on and off, giving the wing its shimmering iridescence.
3. Qualcomm's Mirasol screen replicates the effect with two glass panels and tiny mirrors that reflect colors onto the screen. The play of light on the mirrors defines the colors in individual cells.
4. The device delivers bright color in strong light, only drawing power when the display is refreshed. Unlike an LCD screen, however, it doesn't work in a dark room; an e-reader would need a backlight.