Nanometric butterfly wings created

Oct 08, 2009
This is a section of a butterfly wing under a microscope. Credit: The Pennsylvania State University/ SINC.

A team of researchers from the State University of Pennsylvania (USA) and the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) have developed a technique to replicate biological structures, such as butterfly wings, on a nano scale. The resulting biomaterial could be used to make optically active structures, such as optical diffusers for solar panels.

Insects' colours and their iridescence (the ability to change colours depending on the angle) or their ability to appear metallic are determined by tiny nano-sized photonic structures which can be found in their cuticle. Scientists have focused on these biostructures to develop devices with light emitting properties that they have just presented in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

"This technique was developed at the Materials Research Institute of the State University of Pennsylvania and it enables replicas of to be made on a nanometric scale", Raúl J. Martín-Palma, lecturer at the Department of Applied Physics of the UAM and co-author of the study explains to SINC.

The researchers have created "free-standing replicas of fragile, laminar, chitinous biotemplates", that is, copies of the nano structures of butterfly wings. The appearance of these appendices usually depends more on their periodical nanometric structure (which determines the "physical" colour) than on the pigments in the wings (which establish the "chemical" colour).

In order to create new biomaterial, the team used compounds based on , and Stibium (GeSeSb) and employed a technique called Conformal-Evaporated-Film-by-Rotation (CEFR), which combines thermal evaporation and substrate rotation in a low pressure chamber. They also used immersion in an aqueous orthophosphoric acid solution to dissolve the chitin (substance typically found in the exoskeleton of insects and other arthropods).

The methods used to date to replicate bio structures are very limited when it comes to obtaining effective copies on a nanometric scale and they often damage the original biostructure because they are used in corrosive atmospheres or at high temperatures. The new technique "totally" overcomes these problems, as it is employed at room temperature and does not require the use of toxic substances.

Martín-Palma points out that the structures resulting from replicating the biotemplate of could be used to make various optically active structures, such as optical diffusers or coverings that maximise solar cell light absorption, or other types of devices. "Furthermore, the technique can be used to replicate other biological structures, such as beetle shells or the compound eyes of flies, bees and wasps," the researcher says.

The compound eyes of certain insects are sound candidates for a large number of applications as they provide great angular vision. "The development of miniature cameras and optical sensors based on these organs would make it possible for them to be installed in small spaces in cars, mobile telephones and displays, apart from having uses in areas such as medicine (the development of endoscopes) and security (surveillance)", Martín-Palma says.

More information: Akhlesh Lakhtakia, Raúl J. Martín-Palma, Michael A. Motyka y Carlo G. Pantano. "Fabrication of free-standing replicas of fragile, laminar, chitinous biotemplates". Bioinspiration & Biomimetics 4 (3): 034001, Sept 2009.

Source: FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

Explore further: Dye-sensitized solar cell absorbs a broad range of visible and infrared wavelengths

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Coating copies microscopic biological surfaces

Sep 17, 2008

Someday, your car might have the metallic finish of some insects or the deep black of a butterfly's wing, and the reflectors might be patterned on the nanostructure of a fly's eyes, according to Penn State ...

Butterfly Wings Are Templates for Photonic Structures

Dec 11, 2006

By replicating the complex micron- and nanometer-scale photonic structures that help give butterfly wings their color, researchers have demonstrated a new technique that uses biotemplates for fabricating nanoscale ...

Nanotechnology goes out on a wing

Oct 31, 2006

What does a colorful and noisy backyard insect have to do with nanotechnology? Plenty, according to Jin Zhang and Zhongfan Liu, both professors at Peking University.

Recommended for you

A new way to make microstructured surfaces

4 hours ago

A team of researchers has created a new way of manufacturing microstructured surfaces that have novel three-dimensional textures. These surfaces, made by self-assembly of carbon nanotubes, could exhibit a ...

Tough foam from tiny sheets

Jul 29, 2014

Tough, ultralight foam of atom-thick sheets can be made to any size and shape through a chemical process invented at Rice University.

Graphene surfaces on photonic racetracks

Jul 28, 2014

In an article published in Optics Express, scientists from The University of Manchester describe how graphene can be wrapped around a silicon wire, or waveguide, and modify the transmission of light through it.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

danman5000
not rated yet Oct 08, 2009
Stibium

Why didn't they just say Antimony? The Roman Empire haasn't been around for a while people, we can stop speaking Latin now.
MorituriMax
not rated yet Oct 08, 2009
Where did they use latin here? I don't get the reference you make.
PhysGeek
not rated yet Oct 08, 2009
Stibium = Antimony

Not a big deal, but Antimony is the more common term.