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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lightness of Being

African swallowtail butterfly wings are coated with fluorescent pigments that work like the light emitting diodes (LEDs) used in electronic displays, according to researchers at the University of Exeter. In fact, the butterfly’s method of signaling is superior in efficiency to LEDs manufactured today, because light that is normally trapped or reflected sideways is re-directed outward by micro-holes in the wings.

"Unlike the diodes, the butterfly's system clearly doesn't have semiconductor in it and it doesn't produce its own radiative energy," lead researcher Peter Vukusic told the BBC. "That makes it doubly efficient in a way...When you study these things and get a feel for the photonic architecture available, you really start to appreciate the elegance with which nature put some of these things together.”

The technical term for the butterfly’s LEDs is “photonic structure.” The field of study in which engineers and designers find their inspiration in nature is called biomimetics. It’s being used to improve body armor by studying the composition of sea snail shells and raise fuel efficiency in Mercedes-Benz cars by investigating the aerodynamics of tropical fish.

“Nature always achieves its objectives economically, with the minimum energy, conserves its resources and completely recycles its waste – an example which is well worth following,” said Daimler Chrysler in a press release.

Artist Bill Miller salvages linoleum and vinyl flooring to produce his colorful collages. Miller got his start raiding abandoned steel mills in Pittsburgh for sculptural materials. Today, he is more often invited to rip up retro flooring by homeowners. Find out where his work is being shown; donate your linoleum by calling 917-741-9410 or sending an email to bm122@concentric.net.

Gregory Yanick - New York
Greener Magazine Staff Writer

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