Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

X-rays reveal the photonic crystals in butterfly wings that create color

13.06.2016

Scientists used X-rays to discover what creates one butterfly effect: how the microscopic structures on the insect's wings reflect light to appear as brilliant colors to the eye.

The results, published today in Science Advances, could help researchers mimic the effect for reflective coatings, fiber optics or other applications.


When you look very close up at a butterfly wing, you can see this patchwork map of lattices with slightly different orientations (colors added to illustrate the domains). Scientists think this structure helps create the brilliant "sparkle" of the wings.

Image courtesy Ian McNulty/Science

We've long known that butterflies, lizards and opals all use complex structures called photonic crystals to scatter light and create that distinctive iridescent look. But we knew less about the particulars of how these natural structures grow and what they look like at very, very small sizes--and how we might steal their secrets to make our own technology.

A powerful X-ray microscope at the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility, provided just such a view to scientists from the University of California-San Diego, Yale University and the DOE's Argonne National Laboratory.

They took a tiny piece of a wing scale from the vivid green Kaiser-i-Hind butterfly, Teinopalpus imperialis, and ran X-ray studies to study the organization of the photonic crystals in the scale.

At sizes far too small to be seen by the human eye, the scales look like a flat patchwork map with sections of lattices, or "domains," that are highly organized but have slightly different orientations.

"This explains why the scales appear to have a single color," said UC-San Diego's Andrej Singer, who led the work. "We also found tiny crystal irregularities that may enhance light-scattering properties, making the butterfly wings appear brighter."

These occasional irregularities appear as defects where the edges of the domains met each other.

"We think this may indicate the defects grow as a result of the chirality --the left or right-handedness--of the chitin molecules from which butterfly wings are formed," said coauthor Ian McNulty, an X-ray physicist with the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne, also a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

These crystal defects had never been seen before, he said.

Defects sound as though they're a problem, but they can be very useful for determining how a material behaves--helping it to scatter more green light, for example, or to concentrate light energy in other useful ways.

"It would be interesting to find out whether this is an intentional result of the biological template for these things, and whether we can engineer something similar," he said.

The observations, including that there are two distinct kinds of boundaries between domains, could shed more light on how these structures assemble themselves and how we could mimic such growth to give our own materials new properties, the authors said.

The X-ray studies provided a unique look because they are non-destructive--other microscopy techniques often require slicing the sample into paper-thin layers and staining it with dyes for contrast , McNulty said.

"We were able to map the entire three-micron thickness of the scale intact," McNulty said. (Three microns is about the width of a strand of spider silk.)

The wing scales were studied at the 2-ID-B beamline at the Advanced Photon Source. The results are published in an article, "Domain morphology, boundaries, and topological defects in biophotonic gyroid nanostructures of butterfly wing scales," in Science Advances. Other researchers on the study were Oleg Shpyrko, Leandra Boucheron and Sebastian Dietze (UC-San Diego); David Vine (Argonne/Berkeley National Laboratory); and Katharine Jensen, Eric Dufresne, Richard Prum and Simon Mochrie (Yale).

The research was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (Basic Energy Sciences).

###

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

Media Contact

Richard Fenner
fenner@aps.anl.gov
630-252-5280

 @argonne

http://www.anl.gov 

Richard Fenner | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: Photon Source X-ray butterfly crystals photonic crystals

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Microscope measures muscle weakness
16.11.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

nachricht Good preparation is half the digestion
16.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Stoffwechselforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'

16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

Good preparation is half the digestion

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Microscope measures muscle weakness

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>