From Butterfly Wings to Shrimp Claws: Mimicking Nature on the Nanoscale

From Butterfly Wings to Shrimp Claws: Mimicking Nature on the Nanoscale

Innovators look to biomimicry to address sustainability challenges. Can they harness green chemistry to get it right?

Summary

The same microscopic structures that bring beauty to a butterfly also provide strength, lightness, and water repellency. It's this efficient design that has captured the imagination of Metalmark's founders and inspired their invention: indoor air purification systems that destroy, rather than trap, volatile organic compounds, viruses, and ultrafine particles.

Friday, February 19, 2021 - 9:30am

CAMPAIGN: Biomimicry and Ray of Hope Prize

CONTENT: Article

BOSTON—Standing at a lab bench, Tanya Shirman eyes her creation: a tiny glass vial filled with an iridescent, sand-like material.

Holding it between her thumb and forefinger, she gives the vial a gentle shake, and the material inside turns from shimmering blues to greens.

"This is what happens in butterfly wings," the petite Shirman, lifting her voice over the roar of a lab fume hood, told EHN. "The spectrum of colors changes from the structures in the wings at the nanoscale," that is, a scale hundreds of thousands of times smaller than the head of a pin.

Shirman, vice president of materials design at the Boston-based startup Metalmark Innovations, is referring to the concept of structural color found in nature—such as in butterfly wings, bird feathers, beetles, berries, and the sky.

In a butterfly's wings, for example, chitin—a complex carbohydrate that forms the outer shell of arthropods, insects, crustaceans, fungi and some algae—is ordered in ways that reflect or refract the light, like tiny prisms. These same microscopic structures that bring beauty to a butterfly also provide strength, lightness, and water repellency. It's this efficient design that has captured the imagination of Metalmark's founders and inspired their invention: indoor air purification systems that destroy, rather than trap, volatile organic compounds, viruses, and ultrafine particles.

Read the full story from Environmental Health News.

Metalmark Innovations was a finalist for the 2020 Ray of Hope Prize, awarded by the Biomimicry Institute and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.  Additionally three other finalist teams are highlighted in this article: Werewool, spotLESS Materials and Cypris Materials.

 

RELATED RESOURCES:

How the Nanostructure of a Butterfly Wing Inspired a Better Way to Purify Air

spotLESS Materials: Sprayable Coatings that Repel Liquid, Sludge, Bacteria and More

How Coral is Inspiring Eco-friendly Clothing

This Paint Inspired by Butterflies Could the the Secret to Cooler Cities

Cypris Materials Introduces Nature Inspired, Tunable, Structural Color Coating

CONTACT:

Valerie Bennett
+1 (770) 317-5858
valerie@raycandersonfoundation.org
Ray C. Anderson Foundation
http://www.raycandersonfoundation.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RayCAndersonFoundation
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/16227508
Twitter: @rayslegacy
Instagram: @rcafoundation

Lex Amore
+1 (415) 800-1407
lex.amore@biomimicry.org
Biomimicry Institute
http://biomimicry.org