New technological advances that have been inspired by Nature provide our society with new, advanced products. Some examples of these available and up-coming products include bio-inspired photonic cosmetics without chemical pigments, new unusual fabrics for the use in the fashion industry, paper with exceptional whiteness and brightness, and many others [1,2]. Someday, to this list of technological advances we will add our sensors for rapid and very sensitive temperature detection and thermal imaging as reported in our most recent article in Nature Photonics.
We took the trip to our new discovery in early 2007, when our research paper on the acute vapor sensing using nanostructures of Morpho butterflies has been published as a cover story in Nature Photonics  and I blogged about this exciting discovery. My colleagues at GE Global Research and around the world were congratulating our research team with this discovery and were asking “Radislav, what’s next?” This and many other good questions facilitated our new fundamental studies of Morpho butterfly nanostructure properties to explore their new technological opportunities.
Our team is very excited that results of our study on thermal response of Morpho butterfly nanostructure have been just published in Nature Photonics.
Starting from our initial experiments in early 2008 and followed by more detailed studies over 2009 – 2010, we have found that scales of Morpho butterfly wings can serve as low thermal mass optical resonators and rapidly respond to temperature changes with very high sensitivity.
I have been fortunate to assemble a research team that included Professor Helen Ghiradella from the Department of Biological Sciences, University at Albany; and Andrew Pris, Yogen Utturkar, Cheryl Surman, William Morris, Alexey Vert, Sergiy Zalyubovskiy, and Tao Deng from GE Global Research. Our team has found that in these resonators, the optical cavity is modulated by its thermal expansion and refractive index change, resulting in conversion of infrared heat into visible iridescence changes. We further decorated the Morpho butterfly scales with single-walled carbon nanotubes and achieved heat detection with the temperature resolution of 0.02 – 0.06 oC and 35 – 40 Hz response rate without the need to use a heat sink for heat removal. In the thermographic image below you can see me first holding and then breathing onto a Morpho butterfly.
The nanoscale pitch and the extremely small thermal mass of individual “pixels” of this Morpho butterfly nanostructure promise significant improvements compared to existing detectors in the cost of detectors, response speed, temperature resolution, the ability to obtain more crisp thermal images, and to have thermal images from different infrared spectral regions – all these factors being critical for the much broader acceptance of thermal imaging technologies in consumer electronic products.
Stay tuned for more news from GE Research!
Read more in the official press release from GE here.
Morpho butterfly scales decorated with single-walled carbon nanotubes, efficiently detect mid-wave infrared light as visible iridescence changes. GE’s butterfly-inspired design could enable a new class of thermal imaging sensors with enhanced heat sensitivity and response speed.
A close-up view of the nanostructure observed on Morpho butterfly wing scales. When decorated with single-walled carbon nanotubes, GE researchers discovered that the butterfly structures can serve as efficient thermal sensors.
Thermal image of a Morpho butterfly.
(1) Luke, S. M.; Vukusic, P., An introduction to biomimetic photonic design, Europhysics News 2011, 42(3), 20-23.
(2) Structural Colors in Biological Systems. Principles and Applications; Kinoshita, S.; Yoshioka, S., Ed.; Osaka University Press: Osaka, Japan, 2005.
(3) Potyrailo, R. A.; Ghiradella, H.; Vertiatchikh, A.; Dovidenko, K.; Cournoyer, J. R.; Olson, E., Morpho butterfly wing scales demonstrate highly selective vapour response, Nature Photonics 2007, 1, 123-128.