Wings Of The Morpho Butterfly Inspire New Wave Of Technologies
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April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The stunning iridescent wings of the tropical blue Morpho butterfly might expand the range of innovative technologies, according to a new study from an international research team. Findings based on studies of these butterflies have already inspired designs of new displays, fabrics and cosmetics.
A research team comprised of scientists from the University of Exeter, General Electric (GE) Global Research Center, University at Albany and Air Force Research Laboratory was funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). They discovered that the physical structure and surface chemistry of the Morpho butterfly’s wings provides surprising properties that could offer a variety of applications, such as photonic security tags, self-cleaning surfaces, protective clothing and industrial sensors.
The scales of Morpho wings have tiny tree-like nanostructures on the sides. These “trees” are known to be responsible for the butterfly’s brilliant metallic blue iridescence. The study findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reveal that vapor molecules cling differently to the tops of these nanostructures than to the bottoms. The scientists say this selective response to vapor molecules is the key to the range of possible bio-inspired technological applications.
Dr Radislav Potyrailo, from GE, who is the Principal Investigator on this DARPA Program, said, “Our interdisciplinary team of physicists, chemists, biologist, and materials scientists was able to unveil the existence of surface polarity gradient on iridescent Morpho butterfly scales. This discovery further allowed us to bring a multivariable perspective for vapor sensing, where selectivity is achieved within a single chemically graded nanostructured sensing unit, rather than from an array of separate sensors”.
“Understanding iridescence in butterflies and moths has revolutionized our knowledge of natural photonics. By using design ideas from nature we are able to work towards the development of applications in a range of different technologies. In this study the team discovered a new mechanism in photonic vapor sensing that demonstrates combined physical and chemical effects on the nanoscale,” commented Professor Pete Vukusic from the University of Exeter.
The unique property of selective gas adsorption is not essential for butterfly survival but it is a by-product of the process of butterfly wing scale development.