60 second science: Butterflies and metamaterials

Roy Sambles uses the intricate nanostructures found in butterfly wings that scatter light, to build structures that will scatter microwaves in the same way.

Roy Sambles uses the intricate nanostructures found in butterfly wings that scatter light, to build structures that will scatter microwaves in the same way.

Transcript

If you look at nature there are some stunning colour effects. Rainbows are amazing things. Stunningly bright, vivid butterflies from South America. Dragonflies, how do they achieve those gorgeous greens? We just need to know!

We found that within the wingscale, which is more or less fingernail material, the butterfly had created a variety of different vivid colour effects.

By unravelling the butterflies, we found a whole raft of new metamaterial type structures. If you structure matter on a fine enough scale, it doesn’t respond in a simple way like a bucket of water. It has new properties.

The medal came as a total surprise to me, I have to say. With a large number of very able PhD students down the years, I’ve been fortunate and privileged. To receive the award, in a sense, on their behalf is, yes, immensely pleasing.

I go around from place to place talking about physics and I find that from 3 year olds to 93 year olds they are still fascinated. How does it all work? That’s it, isn’t it? How does it all work?

Further reading