Monday, 7 May 2018

Butterfly wings inspire light-manipulating surface for medical implants




Inspired by tiny nanostructures on transparent butterfly wings, engineers at Caltech have developed a synthetic analogue for eye implants that makes them more effective and longer-lasting. A paper about the research was published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Sections of the wings of a longtail glasswing butterfly are almost perfectly transparent. Three years ago, Caltech postdoctoral researcher Radwanul Hasan Siddique—at the time working on a dissertation involving a glasswing species at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany—discovered the reason why: the see-through sections of the wings are coated in tiny pillars, each about 100 nanometers in diameter and spaced about 150 nanometers apart. The size of these pillars—50 to 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair—gives them unusual optical properties. The pillars redirect the light that strikes the wings so that the rays pass through regardless of the original angle at which they hit the wings. As a result, there is almost no reflection of the light from the wing's surface.

In effect, the pillars make the wings clearer than if they were made of just plain glass.

That redirection property, known as angle-independent antireflection, attracted the attention of Caltech's Hyuck Choo. For the last few years Choo has been developing an eye implant that would improve the monitoring of intra-eye pressure in glaucoma patients. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Though the exact mechanism by which the disease damages eyesight is still under study, the leading theory suggests that sudden spikes in the pressure inside the eye damages the optic nerve. Medication can reduce the increased eye pressure and prevent damage, but ideally it must be taken at the first signs of a spike in eye pressure.

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