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June 20, 2018

From butterflies to nanofab devices

Butterfly wings dazzle with their array of patterns and colors. A deep dive into their wings reveals the intricate nanostructures responsible for their stunning mosaics. The blue and red honeycombed columns in this image are nanostructures on an emerald-patched cattleheart butterfly wing. Researchers are studying how butterflies erect these nanostructures during development and how the insects modify the growth process to vary color across the wing or between species. Their studies could lead to the creation of custom designed nanostructures using biological processes that may be more economical and adaptable than mechanical or chemical approaches. Fields from optics to medicine could benefit from such an advance. To view these tiny optics, researchers use ion microscopy. Creating an image requires a beam of helium or neon ions. When the beam strikes a sample, it gives off electrons that are recorded by a detector. The results are crisp images depicting fine surface details.

More about this image
A National Science Foundation (NSF) Major Research Instrumentation grant (DMR 13-38139) was used to purchase the Zeiss ORION NanoFab instrument which was used to acquire the image.

This image appeared in the NSF/Discover magazine image gallery Imaging the Imperceptible. (Date image taken: 2015; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: June 20, 2018)

Credit: Frances Allen, Rachel Thayer and Nipam Patel, Biomolecular Nanotechnology Center/qb3, UC Berkeley

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