Nature's engineers reveal nano skills

Collaboration between biologists, physicists, engineers, chemists and material scientists at the Natural History Museum (London, UK) has led to a technique for creating photonic nanostructures modeled on the iridescent scales of Morpho butterflies and other examples of 'structural color'.

Three approaches are described in the paper Biomimetics of photonic nanostructure:

  • culturing cells (such as butterfly scales) under controlled conditions in laboratories
  • using single-celled organisms (such as diatoms) as a framework, either by modifying the deposition of silica or processing of the diatoms
  • using viruses as a raw material or substrate (Wright-Patterson Air Force Base)

Research suggests that common underlying mechanisms exist in many species that can build complex photonic nanostructures.  Fully understanding these self-assembly processes could allow us to create biomimetic optical structures of comparable complexity as found in nature today.

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