Morpho butterfly wing scales demonstrate highly selective vapour response


Tropical Morpho butterflies are famous for their brilliant iridescent colours, which arise from ordered arrays of scales on their wings. Here we show that the iridescent scales of the Morpho sulkowskyi butterfly give a different optical response to different individual vapours, and that this optical response dramatically outperforms that of existing nano-engineered photonic sensors. The reflectance spectra of the scales provide information about the nature and concentration of the vapours, allowing us to identify a range of closely related vapours–water, methanol, ethanol and isomers of dichloroethylene when they are analysed individually. By comparing the reflectance as a function of time for different vapours, we deduce that wing regions with scale structures of differing spatial periodicity give contributions to the overall spectral response at different wavelengths. Our optical model explains the effect of different components of the wing scales on the vapour response, and could steer the design of new man-made optical gas sensors.

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Figure 1: Two views of the Morpho photonic structure.
Figure 2: New principle of highly selective vapour response based on hierarchical photonic structures and demonstrated using M. sulkowskyi iridescent scales.
Figure 3: Analysis of selectivity of spectral response of photonic structure of M. sulkowskyi to different vapours.
Figure 4: Evaluation of polarity of scales by nile-red staining.
Figure 5: Dynamic response of scales of M. sulkowskyi to different vapours at 385, 410, 460 and 555 nm.
Figure 6: Optical modelling of vapour response of M. sulkowskyi-like photonic structures.


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Special thanks go to T. Leib, A. Linsebigler and E.A. Williams for encouragement, to P. Jiang, I. Lednev, S. Ostrowski, V. Smentkowski, D. Stavenga, P. Vukusic and S. Yoshioka for helpful comments, and to R. Oudt for help with graphics. This work has been supported in part from General Electric's fundamental research funds.

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Correspondence to Radislav A. Potyrailo.

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Potyrailo, R., Ghiradella, H., Vertiatchikh, A. et al. Morpho butterfly wing scales demonstrate highly selective vapour response. Nature Photon 1, 123–128 (2007).

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