Skycrapers of the future may shine in brilliant butterfly colors.  Optical biosensors may be made from spider webs.  These are just a few of the engineering marvels coming from biomimetics—the imitation of nature.

Walls of butterfly light:  A press release from University of Pennsylvania features Shu Yang’s work to imitate two desirable properties of butterfly wings: optical intensification with “structural color,” and hydrophobicity (exceptional water resistance).  Both of these properties work for butterflies because of the structure of the wing scales.

By etching wafers with a laser, Yang’s team has succeeded in creating material with these properties.  Joanna Carver on New Scientist asked why this research is important, and found out what’s coming for futuristic cities:

Why do this? As it turns out, we have plenty to gain from butterflies. Yang has a grant to develop butterfly-inspired hydrophobic coatings for drier, cleaner and hence more efficient solar panels.  But it doesn’t stop there — Yang has a vision of butterfly cities. She’s working with architects to create a low-cost version of her artificial butterfly wing material. “Specifically, we’re interested in putting this kind of material on the outside of buildings,” Yang said. “The structural colour we can produce is bright and highly decorative.”….

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