October 9, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

How to Copy a Butterfly Wing

Here’s what you have to do to copy a butterfly wing without destroying it: create compounds using Germanium, Selenium and Stibium.  Combine thermal evaporation and substrate rotation in a low pressure chamber.  Immerse in an aqueous orthophosphoric acid solution to dissolve the chitin.  If you are lucky, you can copy the delicate nanostructure of a butterfly wing without destroying it.
    Why would anyone want to go to all that trouble?  Science Daily explained: “the structures resulting from replicating the biotemplate of butterfly wings could be used to make various optically active structures, such as optical diffusers or coverings that maximise solar cell light absorption, or other types of devices.”  Butterfly wings, and other biological structures like beetle shells and compound eyes of flies, bees and wasps make use of an optical principle called photonic crystals.  They create repeating patterns at the scale of billionths of a meter that refract light in ways that intensify some colors and cancel others depending on the viewing angle.  “Scientists have focused on these biostructures to develop devices with light emitting properties,” the article said.  Their work was published in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.  See 09/06/2008 for an article last year about this subject.
    Looking forward to other applications of this technique, the article continued: “The compound eyes of certain insects are sound candidates for a large number of applications as they provide great angular vision.”  Think of the possibilities: “miniature cameras and optical sensors based on these organs would make it possible for them to be installed in small spaces in cars, mobile telephones and displays, apart from having uses in areas such as medicine (the development of endoscopes) and security (surveillance).”  On second thought, that last application creates new worries.  It’s not the butterfly’s fault.
    When these researchers can copy a butterfly wing and make it fly, and migrate 1000 miles, and reproduce itself, they’ll really start catching up to nature.  Those who fail can try something simpler: studying bug splat on car windshields.  According to Science Daily, it contains “a treasure trove of genomic diversity.”  You probably didn’t consider, when wiping it off, that it contains the code for building photonic crystals, compound eyes, wings and a lot of other miniature marvels scientists are drooling to imitate.

No mention of evolution in this article, as usual; just intelligent designers getting bio-inspired to bio-imitate intelligent bio-design.  Did you know our prized LEDs are just cheap imitations of what butterflies possessed since creation (see 11/18/2005)?  Let’s hope these biomimetics researchers “really start to appreciate the elegance with which nature put some of these things together” and then, realizing it is illogical to personify nature, give credit to the Great Physicist. 

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