Mimicking the colourful wing scale structure of the Papilio blumei butterfly

Nat Nanotechnol. 2010 Jul;5(7):511-5. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2010.101. Epub 2010 May 30.


The brightest and most vivid colours in nature arise from the interaction of light with surfaces that exhibit periodic structure on the micro- and nanoscale. In the wings of butterflies, for example, a combination of multilayer interference, optical gratings, photonic crystals and other optical structures gives rise to complex colour mixing. Although the physics of structural colours is well understood, it remains a challenge to create artificial replicas of natural photonic structures. Here we use a combination of layer deposition techniques, including colloidal self-assembly, sputtering and atomic layer deposition, to fabricate photonic structures that mimic the colour mixing effect found on the wings of the Indonesian butterfly Papilio blumei. We also show that a conceptual variation to the natural structure leads to enhanced optical properties. Our approach offers improved efficiency, versatility and scalability compared with previous approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomimetics
  • Butterflies / anatomy & histology*
  • Metals / chemistry
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure
  • Nanotechnology
  • Optics and Photonics*
  • Pigmentation / physiology*
  • Polystyrenes / chemistry
  • Refractometry
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology*


  • Metals
  • Polystyrenes