One wonders if Morpho butterflies are going to decide that they need to protect their intellectual property. Yet another scientific group has found a way to exploit the nanostructures on the Morpho butterfly’s wing. From the Feb. 13, 2012 news item on Nanowerk,
GE [General Electric] scientists are exploring many potential thermal imaging and sensing applications with their new detection concept such as medical diagnostics, surveillance, non-destructive inspection and others, where visual heat maps of imaged areas serve as a valuable condition indicator. Some examples include:
- Thermal Imaging for advanced medical diagnosis – to better visualize inflammation in the body and understand changes in a patient’s health earlier.
- Advanced thermal vision – to see things at night and during the day in much greater detail than what is possible today.
- Fire thermal Imaging – to aid firefighters with new handheld devices to enhance firefighter safety in operational situations
- Thermal security surveillance – to improve public safety and homeland protection
- Thermal characterization of wound infections – to facilitate early diagnosis.
“The iridescence of Morpho butterflies has inspired our team for yet another technological opportunity. This time we see the potential to develop the next generation of thermal imaging sensors that deliver higher sensitivity and faster response times in a more simplified, cost-effective design,” said Dr. Radislav Potyrailo, Principal Scientist at GE Global Research who leads GE’s bio-inspired photonics programs. “This new class of thermal imaging sensors promises significant improvements over existing detectors in their image quality, speed, sensitivity, size, power requirements, and cost.”
GE has provided a video and description that illustrates this newest biomimicry work. First the description then the video (from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoaILSCzlTo&feature=youtu.be)
This is a thermographic video of a Morpho butterfly structure in response to heat pulses produced by breathing onto the whole butterfly structure (video part 1) and onto its localized areas (video part 2). Nanostructures on Morpho butterfly wings coated with carbon nanotubes can sense temperature chances down to .02 degrees Celsius, at a response rate of 1/40 of a second. This is a demonstration of how new bio-inspired designs by GE scientists could enable more advanced applications for industrial inspection, medical diagnostics and military. This video was filmed by Bryan Whalen in the Electronics Cooling Lab at GE Global Research.
This newest work seems to have its origins in a DARPA-funded (US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) GE project. From the Aug. 12, 2010 GE news release,
Scientists at GE Global Research, GE’s technology development arm, in collaboration with Air Force Research Laboratory, State University at Albany, and University of Exeter, have received a four-year, $6.3 million award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop new bio-inspired nanostructured sensors that would enable faster, more selective detection of dangerous warfare agents and explosives.
Three years ago, GE scientists discovered that nanostructures from wing scales of butterflies exhibited acute chemical sensing properties. [emphasis bold] Since then, GE scientists have been developing a dynamic, new sensing platform that replicates these unique properties. Recognizing the potential of GE’s sensing technologies for improving homeland protection, DARPA is supporting further research. [emphasis mine]
For anyone who’s particularly interested in the technical details, Dexter Johnson offers more in his Feb. 13, 2012 posting about this research on the Nanoclast blog for the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).