John Pendry of Imperial College London explains how the wing structure of the Blue Adonis butterfly inspired and informed his cutting-edge research into 'metamaterials'.
As the saying goes: "the caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."* In this case, however, the publicity may be well deserved.
Organisms such as the Blue Adonis possess unique microstructures on their wing surface which diffract blue light and lend them their iridescent blue appearance. In a similar way, metamaterials are being built from modified microstructures and components smaller than the wavelength of the light. By bending light around objects they are being used in the development of new materials including the world’s first invisibility cloak.
Similar work is being carried out in optical computing by Brigham Young University (BYU) with the natural photonic crystals inside the scales of Brazilian beetles. Our intern Ed also unearthed a great video from the Lawrence Hall of Science (University of California) zooming in the wing of a Blue Morpho butterfly – from 10 centimeters to 200 nanometers.
*Attributed to George Carlin (American stand-up Comedian, Actor and Author)