Eco Factor: Colorful structures on butterfly wings to help harness the power of light.
Researchers at Yale University wish to use the strange structures of the colorful wings of butterflies to harness the power of light. The team led by Richard Prum discovered that that the butterflies get their color from the crystal nanostructures called gyroids, which are three-dimensional curving structures that selectively scatter light. The team took help from the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, as well as the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science for their study.
The research that was undertaken at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois used the wings of five butterfly species to find the three-dimensional internal structure. The Yale team was inquisitive to know the way a cell can sculpt itself into this extraordinary form and found the outer membranes of the butterfly wing scale cells grow and fold into the interior of the cells. This folding of membrane then results in forming a double gyroid.
Eventually chitin is deposited in the outer gyroid to create a single solid crystal. The cell then dies, leaving behind the crystal nanostructures on the butterfly wing. The gyroid shapes will help photonic engineers to create more efficient solar cells. The team also hopes to see more efficient optical devices being created using their discovery.