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Blue Morpho Butterfly Wings

Dean Fletcher
PhD student in the group of Dr Zoe Schnepp

Many people will be familiar with the iridescent appearance of a Blue Morpho butterfly wing. However, less familiar are the micro features that give rise to this effect. The scales found on a Blue Morpho butterfly wing consist of an array of periodically repeating micro structures, made primarily of the polysaccharide chitin. Approaching the length scales associated with the wavelengths of visible light, these micro features are able to interact with light in interesting ways, producing properties similar to those of a photonic crystal. In fact, they are capable of producing such a sensitive response to light that they have huge potential as optical sensors in a variety of modern technologies.

However, unfortunately, producing man made materials with such complex micro features from scratch is not a trivial problem. High resolution fabrication techniques, capable of high through put, would be required.

Yet a shortcut may exist if we can capitalise on natures industry by creating direct Blue Morpho wing replicas. It is hoped that by coating Blue Morpho wings in aqueous iron salts, then heating them in an inert atmosphere, that high fidelity graphitized replicas can be produced, in a so called “biotemplating” approach, allowing us access to advanced optical materials that have been optimised directly by nature.