About this video
The structure a humble butterfly wing is informing the development of cutting-edge metamaterials.
John Pendry of Imperial College London explains how the wing structure of the Blue Adonis butterfly inspired and informed his cutting-edge research into 'metamaterials'.
As the saying goes: "the caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."* In this case, however, the publicity may be well deserved.
Organisms such as the Blue Adonis possess unique microstructures on their wing surface which diffract blue light and lend them their iridescent blue appearance. In a similar way, metamaterials are being built from modified microstructures and components smaller than the wavelength of the light. By bending light around objects they are being used in the development of new materials including the world’s first invisibility cloak.
Similar work is being carried out in optical computing by Brigham Young University (BYU) with the natural photonic crystals inside the scales of Brazilian beetles. Our intern Ed also unearthed a great video from the Lawrence Hall of Science (University of California) zooming in the wing of a Blue Morpho butterfly – from 10 centimeters to 200 nanometers.
*Attributed to George Carlin (American stand-up Comedian, Actor and Author)
- Professor Sir John Pendry
- London, UK
- Filmed in:
- The Main Library
Filmed by StoryCog
I was on Denbies Hillside a couple of years ago and I got this rather lovely shot of the Adonis Blue. It's quite rare in most places, but on Denbies Hillside, near Dorking, it's prolific in the spring time.
Not only is it a very beautiful butterfly, but also it has a particular scientific interest for optics because the blue color it has isn't generated by chemicals, by dyes. It's caused by the structure of the wings. There's a microstructure in the wings which diffracts light and it just diffracts the blue light, which is what produces that very intense blue.
And that hinges on some ideas I've been developing in my scientific life, which is to control light with a new class of materials, called metamaterials. And their function is due to their structure. But the butterfly got there first.
I'm John Pendry and I'm a professor of physics at Imperial College London. I work on the theory of how to control light.