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Tuesday 19 September 2017

Butterflies hold key to colour-change fabric

Crystals in butterfly wings create their vivid patterns
Crystals in butterfly wings create their vivid patterns

Richard Gray

The science of butterfly wings could lead to clothes that change colour.

Physicists have discovered how subtle differences in the crystals of butterfly wings create their vivid patterns.

Replicating this process could create materials that could change colour on demand, said Dr Kok Wai Cheah of Hong Kong Baptist University.

Three tropical butterflies the researchers studied all displayed iridescence, a property of materials that change colour depending on the viewing angle.

The scientists examined a cross-section of each butterfly species' wing under a scanning electron microscope. They found that the wings contained solid, flat layers known as cuticles, alternating with "air" layers called laminae.

The laminae also contain pillars of the cuticle material, which gives the wing a crystal-like structure, which is similar to a multi-layered mirror that reflects only certain wavelengths, or colours, of light.

It was from minute differences in the crystals that variations in colours arose.

"It all comes from the fact the wing structure has subtle differences between these three types of butterfly," said Dr Cheah. "It was very exciting to see how nature can create a nanostructure that's not easy to replicate by humans."

Dr Cheah said the study's findings could lead to materials that could change colour.

For example, a single item of clothing could reflect a subdued colour during the day, and an ostentatious one at night.

"You would just tune your structure to produce the colour you want," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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