Researchers at Yale University wish to use the strange structures of the colorful wings of butterflies to harness thepower of light. The team led by Richard Prum discovered that that thebutterflies get their color from the crystal nanostructures calledgyroids, which are three-dimensional curving structures that selectively scatter light. The team took help from the Departments of ChemicalEngineering, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, as well as the YaleSchool of Engineering and Applied Science for their study.
The research that was undertaken at the Argonne National Laboratoryin Illinois used the wings of five butterfly species to find thethree-dimensional internal structure. The Yale team was inquisitive toknow the way a cell can sculpt itself into this extraordinary form andfound the outer membranes of the butterfly wing scale cells grow andfold into the interior of the cells. This folding of membrane thenresults in forming a double gyroid.
Eventually chitin is deposited in the outer gyroid to create asingle solid crystal. The cell then dies, leaving behind the crystalnanostructures on the butterfly wing. The gyroid shapes will helpphotonic engineers to create more efficient solar cells. The team alsohopes to see more efficient optical devices being created using theirdiscovery.