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Blue butterfly inspires creation of gas detection sensor

01 Sep 2015

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An international team of scientists, including researchers from the University of Exeter in England, have developed a gas sensor by replicating the surface chemistry found in the iridescent scales of the Morpho butterfly.

The findings could help inspire new designs for sensors that could be used in a range of sectors, including medical diagnostics, industry and the military.

The research, published in Nature Communications, describes how the composition of gases in different environments can be detected by measuring small colour changes of the innovative bio-inspired sensor.

"Bio-inspired approaches to the realisation of new technologies are tremendously valuable, said Professor Pete Vukusic, one of the authors of the research and part of the Physics department at the University of Exeter. "In this work, by developing a detailed understanding of the subtle way in which the appearance and colour of the Morpho butterfly arises, and the way this colour depends on its local environment, our team has discovered a remarkable way in which we can advance sensor and detector technology rapidly."


Morpho butterfly (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Tiny tree-like nanostructures in the scales of Morpho wings are known to be responsible for the butterfly's brilliant iridescence. Previous studies have shown that vapour molecules adhere differently to the top of these structures than to the bottom due to local chemistry within the scales. This selective response to vapour molecules is the key to this bio-inspired gas sensor.

The research team, led by scientists from GE Global Research in the United States and also comprised of University of Exeter, State University of New York at Albany, and Air Force Research Laboratory, produced these new kind of colourimetric sensors that favourably compete with conventional gas sensor arrays in simplicity, stability and cost-savings.

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