Butterfly wings help break the status quo in gas sensing

September 1, 2015
Morpho didius – Museum specimen. Credit: Wikipedia

The unique properties found in the stunning iridescent wings of a tropical blue butterfly could hold the key to developing new highly selective gas detection sensors.

Pioneering new research by a team of , including researchers from the University of Exeter, has replicated the surface chemistry found in the iridescent scales of the Morpho butterfly to create an innovative .

The ground-breaking findings could help inspire new designs for that could be used in a range of sectors, including medical diagnostics, industry, and the military.

The research, published in the highly respected scientific journal, Nature Communications on September 1st, describes how the composition of gases in different environments can be detected by measuring small colour changes of the innovative bio-inspired sensor.

Professor Pete Vukusic, one of the authors of the research and part of the Physics department at the University of Exeter said: "Bio-inspired approaches to the realisation of new technologies are tremendously valuable. In this work, by developing a detailed understanding of the subtle way in which the appearance and colour of the Morpho butterfly arises, and the way this colour depends on its local environment, our team has discovered a remarkable way in which we can advance sensor and detector technology rapidly."

Tiny tree-like nanostructures in the scales of Morpho wings are known to be responsible for the butterfly's brilliant iridescence. Previous studies have shown that vapour molecules adhere differently to the top of these structures than to the bottom due to local chemistry within the scales. This selective response to vapour molecules is the key to this bio-inspired gas sensor.

The research team, led by scientists from GE Global Research in the USA and also comprised of University of Exeter, State University of New York at Albany, and Air Force Research Laboratory, produced these new kind of colorimetric sensors that favourably compete with conventional gas sensor arrays in simplicity, stability, and cost-savings.

At present, reliable and cost-effective sensors for detection of small but meaningful gas leaks in a multitude of industrial processes remain an unmet environmental, health, and safety goal. The research team believe this highly selective colorimetric sensor could represent a significant advancement in gas leak detection performance in the future.

Dr. Radislav Potyrailo, the study's lead author and Principal Scientist at Global Research's headquarters in Niskayuna, New York, said: "Material-design principles applied in nature impact many scientific fields. We found the origin of the unusually high gas selectivity of the wing scales of Morpho butterflies and fabricated a new kind of sensor based on these principles."

"These new sensors not only selectively detect separate gases but also quantify gases in mixtures, and when blended with a variable chemical background. Our next goal is to make these sensors in a cost-effective manner to offer new attractive sensing solutions in the marketplace."

Dr. Timothy Starkey, researcher at the University of Exeter, said: "Our research into these bio-inspired sensors demonstrates the huge value in applying the scientific learnings from the biological world to develop technologies for real world applications."

Explore further: Butterfly wings inspire new technologies: from fabrics and cosmetics to sensors

Related Stories

A miniature gas sensor for mobile devices

August 13, 2015

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a miniature gas sensor that can be connected to mobile devices. Gas measurements made with smartphones will make activities such as the detection of internal air problems ...

GE Global Research works on RFID tag for detecting explosives

February 17, 2015

Tech sites are talking about an explosives detector the size of a postage stamp. This is a wireless RFID (radio-frequency identification) sensor tag, battery-free. The tags are specially capable of chemical sensing. The company ...

New capability takes sensor fabrication to a new level

June 30, 2015

Operators must continually monitor conditions in power plants to assure they are operating safely and efficiently. Researchers on the Sensors and Controls Team at DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory can now fabricate ...

Recommended for you

New method analyzes corn kernel characteristics

November 17, 2017

An ear of corn averages about 800 kernels. A traditional field method to estimate the number of kernels on the ear is to manually count the number of rows and multiply by the number of kernels in one length of the ear. With ...

Optically tunable microwave antennas for 5G applications

November 16, 2017

Multiband tunable antennas are a critical part of many communication and radar systems. New research by engineers at the University of Bristol has shown significant advances in antennas by using optically induced plasmas ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FredJose
1 / 5 (3) Sep 01, 2015
Huge potential for medical diagnoses since it actually quantifies the gases in a mixture.
I'm glad they used these words -
said: "Material-design principles applied in nature impact many scientific fields.

shows that things in nature didn' t just happen by accident - they were designed.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Sep 01, 2015
shows that things in nature didn' t just happen by accident - they were designed.

Nope - they evolved (which sin't design and also isn't "happens by accident") You're making a statement based on a simple philosophical fallacy (false dichotomy).

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.