Innovative insects – How butterflies could revolutionize our lives – Knowledge


Floating cities, new smartphone tools and innovative plasters: Science is using the versatile properties of butterflies to reform urban planning and medicine.

The butterfly effect is literally “one flap of your wings and it influences the weather on the other side of the world”. A wing flap like this isn’t quite as earth-shattering – but the wings of these insects actually have properties that could be revolutionary for our future. Some examples:

Floating cities thanks to butterfly wings

Butterfly wings are covered with nanostructures. Millionths of a millimeter small and invisible to our eyes. These unusual structures make the wings of some species water-repellent. Researchers at the University of Rochester in the USA were inspired by this. They managed to adapt this water-repellent nanostructure and engrave it on metal. The result: a metal plate construction that is unsinkable. The researchers now dream of applying this technology to boat hulls. Or even building floating cities on unsinkable metal structures – but the latter is still a thing of the future.

New colors and smartphone screens that don’t reflect

The wings of the morpho butterfly glow intensely blue – even though they do not have a single color pigment. How does it work? The color is created thanks to the nanostructure of the wing. This refracts the light in such a way that only certain color components of the light are visible to our eyes. In the case of the morpho butterfly, the blue ones. Its wings shine in an intense blue that shimmers metallically due to the changing incidence of light. A simple experiment shows that it really isn’t a pigment color: If you put a few drops of ethanol on the wings, it “clogs” the nanostructure and – depending on the incidence of light – causes the wings to take on either a green color or no color at all , i.e. become black.

Soon our smartphones will probably also be covered with such special nanostructures. The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, for example, is already working on solutions that swallow up the light. In the future, we could read in the sun – without annoying reflections from the screen.

Surgical screws and plasters made from caterpillar silk

There is a miracle in the sticky silk thread of the mulberry silk moth. Namely the protein fibroin. It is supposed to be the magical basis for new, innovative materials. Because silk fibroin is extremely versatile. It can be flexible but also strong like Kevlar. And: The human body tolerates it very well. There are no inflammatory reactions. That’s why medical research relies on it. New types of plasters are being developed in several research institutions around the world. The silk fibroin would improve the stopping of bleeding as a component of wound dressings.

Research is also underway on fibroin screws for implants in reconstructive surgery. An advantage over metal screws would be that those made from fibroin could be additionally enriched with active ingredients that support bone reconstruction. Unfortunately, there is no specific information about when plasters and fibroin screws can be used. But it probably lasts longer than a flap of wings.

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