Color producing methods of butterfly wings could inspire 3D printing technology: research

Updated 2017-04-27 17:31:14 Xinhua

Scientists from Australia and Swiss revealed on Thursday some of the mysteries about butterfly wings and their unique methods for producing color.

Dr Gerd Schroeder-Turk from Murdoch University in the Australian state of Western Australia worked alongside his Swiss colleague Dr Bodo Wilts from the University of Fribourg to shed light on the nanostructures which make up the wings of a Hairstreak butterfly.

Dr Schroeder-Turk said the butterfly represents an amazing feat of evolutionary engineering.

"We now have absolutely amazing 3D printing technology that can produce structures at a very small scale. But it needs to be recognized, there's an alternative and that's the mechanism that nature uses to let these tiny structures form by themselves. This is what happens in the butterfly," Dr Schroeder-Turk told Xinhua on Thursday.

"The take home message is, if we want to use structures in technology, it's a good idea to look at how nature uses them first because nature manages to optimise structures through millions or billions of years of evolution."

It has been known for about a decade that butterflies produce color by structure, rather than by pigments but it was previously unknown exactly how they manage to do this.

The research used high resolution microscopy to examine gyroids, which are tiny three-dimensional structures.

These gyroids are what allow butterflies to have green wings, despite not having any green pigment.

Dr Schroeder-Turk said it is just one example of how technology can learn from nature.

"This butterfly obviously isn't using a 3D printer to produce its structures. Understanding the butterfly certainly has implications elsewhere," Schroeder-Turk said.

"Efficiencies and innovations are sure to be revealed if we can unpick these processes."

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