Butterfly Wings: Your New Heat Sensor

02.14.12 6 years ago

Morpho, a specific species of butterfly not pictured here thanks to the vagary of imaging rights, is an iridescent butterfly. How does it achieve that sparkling look so beloved by biologists and fifteen year old girls?

With tiny little structures all over the wing, not unlike trees. The light reflects off the “trees” and bounces everywhere, scattering it and creating a shimmer effect. Here’s a video of the structures that goes down to the nanometer level: it’s fascinating stuff.

Anyway, some researchers realized these structures also react to infrared radiation, i.e. heat, by stretching or contracting, thus changing the wavelength of light they reflect. One coating of carbon nanotubes later and boom, a heat sensor far more sensitive than anything on the market.

Of course, this involves plucking the butterfly wings off, so be careful not to tell any teenage girls.

[ via New Scientist ]

image courtesy Shutterstock

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