Nike’s concept Air Jordan 3 RTNA puts butterfly tech on your feet

Kew Gardens volunteers have been instructed not to touch the shoes and a Nike spokesperson told us they’re keen not to have people’s oily fingers on them at this early stage: “There’s a certain level of white glove treatment that comes with these innovations, the same way some Nike artefacts from back in the day would be handled.”

The coating itself is less than 1/100,000th of a hair thick and can be applied uniformly over any material. As part of its sustainability push, developers on the Explore Team are also investigating ways that RTNA could be applied to “refresh and recolour” reclaimed stranded materials in its shoes. The Air Jordan 3 appears to be using Nike Grind, its gritty, upcycled manufacturing scrap on the outsole, too. 
Back to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery and Kew is displaying the Nike concept shoes, Pure Structural Colour samples and prototypes, together with artworks from its collection, against black backgrounds, with spotlights to best show off the bright, vivid tones. One question that remains is how the colour technique performs in sunlight and regular indoor lighting, but in person, up close, in this setting, the large wall-mounted discs of Pure Structural Colour in particular are quite literally dazzling to look at. 

Concept Nike Air Jordan 3 on display at Kew GardensWIREDLifescaped is even billing this as ‘the world’s brightest colour’, or more accurately, type of colour, having so far conducted its own spectrometry and visual comparison tests with the University of Oxford. Industrial designer Marc Newson is a fan, referring to Pure Structural Colour as “the most vivid colour I have seen” and comparing the results to the “jewel-like shades” found in nature. 
On show are a range of base materials, including silicone rubber, canvas, acrylic and glass, which have been coloured partly or, in many cases, entirely by this coating of transparent microstructures – no pigments in sight. “It will never fade and it can be made in any hue,” says Parker. 
By most accounts, Neotropical morpho butterflies would be in the running for the brightest colour in nature for their intense blue, green and purple wings. But what you see on a morpho’s wings isn’t a pigment: instead, it’s structural colour, which occurs when completely transparent patterned structures on the wings are able to separate, channel and reflect specific wavelengths of light. When we see a blue morpho, then, because of the precise design and hundreds of nanometers-wide distances, we are seeing only the blue wavelengths reflected back. 

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