In a paper published in Nature Communications, physicists demonstrate the ability to reproduce the reflective structure of a butterfly wing through 3D printed gyroids. The discovery was made through the study of photonics – how light moves through space and objects – and has resulted in the patenting of a new material.
The study of light
Photons are elementary particles that make-up visible and invisible light. Photonics, therefore, is the study of how these particles behave, passing or not passing through different kinds of Matter. For example understanding why photons pass through glass but not through wood?
Photonics also informs recent research on 3D printed bio-matter for flexible LED screens. In that study at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, glowing bacteria is used in the place of LED color filters to create a more eco friendly literally “living” screen.
The way that photons travel, or don’t travel, through a material is dependent upon a particle’s wavelength. A disallowed wavelength is known as photonic band gap (PBG). Through a 3D printed gyroid, the researchers at Surrey and San Francisco demonstrate an ability to manipulate the photonic band gap through the shape of their ceramic object.
The magic gyroid shape
The gyroid’s reaction to light also led the researchers to discover that this shape can be found in the construction of a butterfly wing, and therefore has great potential for naturally harnessing color.
Using this gyroid structure on a nanometric scale would allow the development of a tailor-made energy efficient material that could be used for insulation. A patent for such a material has been filed in the U.K. by the partnership, with another pending on the international scale.
Gyroid structures were also used by MIT as a theoretical form and 3D printedto understand graphene, as the way the shape of a gyroid repeats itself is similar to the natural honecomb structure of the 2D material.
This most recent research was conducted by Marian Forescu and Steven Sellers of the University of Surrey in the UK, and in conjunction with Weining Man and Shervin Sahba from San Franciso State University. A material related to the process has been patented in the UK, and has patents pending at an international level. The University of Surrey plans to commercialise the energy efficient material through a partnership with electronics manufacturers Etaphase Inc.
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Featured images shows the iridescent wings of butterfly. Photo by Kathleen Dagostino, kathleencavalaro on Flickr