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article imageStudying butterfly wings could create new colors and hues

By Tim Sandle     Jul 19, 2013 in Environment
By studying butterfly wings, scientists think they can create new coatings for manufactured materials that could change color by design or from different angles.
This may be achieved if researchers work out how to replicate a butterfly's wings light-manipulating properties. This follows on from a study conducted by physicists which has shown how subtle differences in the tiny crystals of butterfly wings create stunningly varied patterns of color even among closely related species.
For the study, the research group looked at three different tropical butterflies. Each type of butterfly displayed iridescence. This is a property of materials that change color depending on the viewing angle, and where different angles reveal different colors (with butterflies this is when light passes through the transparent, multilayered surface of the wing and is reflected more than once). Mother of pearl seashells, fish and peacocks are just a few examples of animals with this quality.
One of the tropical butterflies
One of the tropical butterflies
For example, the research brief notes that the Ulysses butterfly or blue mountain swallowtail, appears bluish green when seen from above. Whereas a closely related butterfly, by contrast, looks yellowish green from above. Both types of butterfly shift toward deep blue when viewed from a sharp angle.
To see what the wing structures were composed of required the use of an electron microscope. This revealed that the wings contain specialized architecture in which solid flat layers known as cuticles alternate with thin "air" layers known as laminae. The number and exact composition of the layers varies between species, creating the different colors when light shines through the wings.
It was good to be able to get so close to these amazing creatures
It was good to be able to get so close to these amazing creatures
To attempt to replicate the dazzling beauty of butterfly wings requires nanoscale technology. The research team is considering different ways to replicate the light-color effect using the latest technologies.
The study has been reported in the journal Optical Materials Express. The paper is titled "Iridescence and nano-structure differences in Papilio butterflies".
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