Butterfly Inspires New Thermal Imaging Technology
February 13, 2012

Butterfly Inspires New Thermal Imaging Technology

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GE Global Research announced on Monday that its researchers have developed a technology for new butterfly-inspired thermal imaging devices.

GE scientists have developed new bio-inspired nanostructured systems that could outperform thermal imaging devices available today.

The GE researchers discovered the new technology by studying Morpho butterfly wings.

"The iridescence of Morpho butterflies has inspired our team for yet another technological opportunity," Dr. Radislav Potyrailo, Principal Scientist at GE Global Research who leads GE's bio-inspired photonics programs, said in a press release.

"This time we see the potential to develop the next generation of thermal imaging sensors that deliver higher sensitivity and faster response times in a more simplified, cost-effective design."

The new thermal imaging and sensing applications could help with medical diagnostics, surveillance cameras, non-destructive inspection and heat maps.

Potyrailo said the new technology provides a new class of thermal imaging sensors over existing detectors in their image quality, speed, sensitivity, size, power requirements, and cost.

"GE's bio-inspired design also promises exciting new thermal imaging applications such as in advanced medical diagnostics to detect changes in a person's health or in thermal vision goggles for the military to allow soldiers to see things during the day and at night with much greater specificity and detail," he said.

In order to make the finding, the team studied the origin and details of thermal response of Morpho butterfly wing scales.

They found the technological applications of photonics properties of Morpho butterfly wing scales, and also were inspired by the wings to develop highly selective vapor sensing applications.

Potyrailo said they discovered the wings can serve as low thermal mass optical resonators, and rapidly respond to temperature changes with very high sensitivity.

The team found that in these resonators, the optical cavity is modulated by its thermal expansion and refractive index change, resulting in conversion of infrared heat into visible refractive index change.

Morpho butterfly scales decorated with single-walled carbon nanotubes, efficiently detect mid-wave infrared light as visible iridescence changes," Potyrailo wrote in a blog post. "GE´s butterfly-inspired design could enable a new class of thermal imaging sensors with enhanced heat sensitivity and response speed."

The team's findings were published in the journal Nature Photonics.


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