Colors of Butterfly Wing Yield Clues to Light-Altering Structures

Jun 14, 2010
The vivid green color of the scales of this Papilionid butterfly are produced by optically efficient single gyroid photonic crystals.

(PhysOrg.com) -- At the very heart of some of the most brilliant colors on the wings of butterflies lie bizarre structures, a multidisciplinary team of Yale researchers has found. These structures are intriguing the team's scientists and engineers, who want to use them to harness the power of light.

The crystal that ultimately give butterflies their are called gryoids. These are “mind-bendingly weird” three-dimensional curving structures that selectively scatter light, said Richard Prum, chair and the William Robertson Coe Professor in the Department of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Prum led the Yale team, which reported its findings online in the .

Prum over the years became fascinated with the properties of the colors on and enlisted researchers to help study them from the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, as well as the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Using an X-ray scattering technique at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, Richard Prum, his graduate student Vinod Saranathan and their colleagues determined the three-dimensional internal structure of scales in the wings of five butterfly species.

The gyroid is made of chitin, the tough starchy material that forms the exterior of insects and crustaceans, Chitin is usually deposited on the outer membranes of cells. The Yale team wanted to know how a cell can sculpt itself into this extraordinary form, which resembles a network of three-bladed boomerangs. They found that, essentially, the outer membranes of the butterfly wing scale cells grow and fold into the interior of the cells. The membranes then form a double gyroid — or two, mirror-image networks shaped by the outer and inner cell membranes. The latter are easier to grow but are not as good at scattering light. Chitin is then deposited in the outer gyroid to create a single solid crystal. The cell then dies, leaving behind the crystal nanostructures on the butterfly wing.

Photonic engineers are using gyroid shapes to try to create more efficient solar cells and, by mimicking nature, may be able to produce more efficient optical devices as well, Prum said.

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Au-Pu
3 / 5 (2) Jun 14, 2010
Yale University would appear to be decades behind the times.
30, 40 or even 50 years ago a group of scientists were intrigued by the fact that butterflies in very old collections did not suffer colour fade.
They found that cells on the wing surface were designed to bend and scatter light to produce their colours and that because this was due to cell structure there was no fading.
This was done way back in 1950's to 1970's.
They must enjoy long siestas at Yale.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (3) Jun 15, 2010
I thought this kind of nano-structured light diffraction was found long ago in birds as well. So what's the news here?

The Yale team wanted to know how a cell can sculpt itself into this extraordinary form, which resembles a network of three-bladed boomerangs


The truth should be quite clear - the cell cannot form itself like that - it was designed to be like that. Is that not an obvious deduction to make?
Oh, I almost missed the point - "Department of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology."
If you don't believe in a designer you have to find a complex evolutionary scenario to explain it.

Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Jun 15, 2010
The truth should be quite clear - the cell cannot form itself like that - it was designed to be like that. Is that not an obvious deduction to make?
Actually no, it isn't. We know how evolution works, we've not only seen it but we've forced it in the lab and seen it within nature. Hell we're responsible for it in the case of many plants and domesticated animals.
Oh, I almost missed the point - "Department of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology."
If you don't believe in a designer you have to find a complex evolutionary scenario to explain it.
Well yes. Until you can prove magic is real we do have to come up with a feasable physical mechanism. Thing is, it's really not that complex compared to something we've never seen, heard, touched, or felt magically wishing it into existence for no reason whatsoever.
VEERUNCLE
1 / 5 (1) Jun 15, 2010
Greetings...

Wishing a great good'luck to all the concerned savants for their best endeavors to decode the 'photonic encryption' what nature has nurtured itself in the journey of evolutionary leap unto all of cosmological, spiritual and eschatological processes.

All is Colorgenic. Light is photon'genesis, so is a spirit of soul in all living beings. All of weirdness lies in the imponderable-state of subtlety, a domain what human is endeavoring to explore. Lets not forget human is source of Knowledge and God, both. His workability lies in...

Weirdness` ...understanding weirdness is Science` yet in kindergarten schooling for Perfection`

Foreseeability of a Vision` is an essence beyond the sense called Logic` by science.

CHARANJEET SINGH LAMBA
~ astral scientist~