Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Deciphering Butterflies' Designer Colors: Findings Could Inspire New Hue-Changing Materials

July 17, 2013 — Butterfly wings can do remarkable things with light, and humans are still trying to learn from them. Physicists have now uncovered how subtle differences in the tiny crystals of butterfly wings create stunningly varied patterns of color even among closely related species. The discovery, reported today in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Optical Materials Express, could lead to new coatings for manufactured materials that could change color by design, if researchers can figure out how to replicate the wings' light-manipulating properties.

"It was very exciting to see how nature can create a nanostructure that's not easy to replicate by humans," says Kok Wai Cheah, a physicist at Hong Kong Baptist University. He and his colleagues are the first to investigate the color-creating mechanisms in multiple butterfly species within a single genus.

The three tropical butterflies the researchers studied all display iridescence, a property of materials that change color depending on the viewing angle, but they do so with different colors. Papilio ulysses, the Ulysses butterfly or blue mountain swallowtail, appears bluish green when seen from above. Its cousin Papilio peranthus, by contrast, looks yellowish green from above, and a third relative,Papilio blumei, the green swallowtail, is more of a deep green. All three shift toward deep blue when viewed from a sharp angle.


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