Watching Butterfly Wings

I don’t report on it much here because it gets pretty esoteric, but I’m fascinated with the new display technologies that are under development in the labs. I’ve met with researchers who have found out how to eliminate the polarizing layer from LCD panels (which in turn makes the panels much more efficient), and I follow efforts to use colored lasers to create a rear-projection HDTV. But I read a story today in Technology Research News that caught my imagination that I decide is worth mention here.

Nanoparticle researchers in China and Japan have found that by coating butterfly wings with a compound and then baking them results in microtubes with tiny pores. The wings are covered by tiny scales which curl up when heated, and the scales bake away leaving the chemical coating. These microscopic tubes could be used for a variety of applications — much like carbon nanotubes — such as drug delivery. They also can be coaxed into emitting light, and so have the potential for use as a display.

I always wonder what it what the “Aha!” event was that leads up to discoveries such as this. I imagine that lots of hard work and unsuccessful experiments led to this discovery, and there’s clearly much more work to be done before a display using this technology shows up in your living room (or in your pocket). But I still find it interesting that something as apparently simple as a butterfly wing could form the basis for a whole new technology.