Agriculture
Hungry bug seeks hot meal
Cleaning Up Fish Farms
Where Have All the Bees Gone?
Amphibians
Poison Dart Frogs
Bullfrogs
Newts
Animals
Sleep Affects a Bird's Singing
Roboroach and Company
Who's Knocking?
Behavior
Pipefish power from mom
GSAT Mathematics Quiz, Teaching Math, teaching anxiety
Swedish Rhapsody
Birds
Vultures
Pigeons
Seagulls
Chemistry and Materials
Flytrap Machine
Sticking Around with Gecko Tape
Salt secrets
Computers
Computers with Attitude
Hubble trouble doubled
Galaxies far, far, far away
Dinosaurs and Fossils
Fossil Fly from Antarctica
Message in a dinosaur's teeth
Meet your mysterious relative
E Learning Jamaica
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
Earth
Killer Space Rock Snuffed Out Ancient Life
Distant Quake Changes Geyser Eruptions
Earth's Poles in Peril
Environment
Sounds and Silence
The Wolf and the Cow
Sea Otters, Kelp, and Killer Whales
Finding the Past
Writing on eggshells
A Volcano's Deadly Ash
Prehistoric Trips to the Dentist
Fish
Carp
Skates
Flashlight Fishes
Food and Nutrition
In Search of the Perfect French Fry
Food for Life
Eat Out, Eat Smart
GSAT English Rules
Subject and Verb Agreement
Who vs. Whom
Adjectives and Adverbs
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
How are students placed after passing the GSAT exam
The Annual GSAT Scholarships
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
Access denied - Disabled boy aces GSAT
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
GSAT Mathematics
How to Slice a Cake Fairly
Math is a real brain bender
Detecting True Art
Human Body
Spit Power
Cell Phone Tattlers
Germ Zapper
Invertebrates
Ants
Crawfish
Tapeworms
Mammals
Primates
African Camels
Bison
Parents
Raise a Lifelong Reader by Reading Aloud
How children learn
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
Physics
Invisibility Ring
Hold on to your stars, ladies and gentlemen
Black Hole Journey
Plants
Springing forward
Cactus Goo for Clean Water
Underwater Jungles
Reptiles
Sea Turtles
Cobras
Caimans
Space and Astronomy
Slip-sliding away
No Fat Stars
An Icy Blob of Fluff
Technology and Engineering
Crime Lab
A Light Delay
Young Scientists Take Flight
The Parts of Speech
What is a Preposition?
What is a Noun
Problems with Prepositions
Transportation
Robots on a Rocky Road
Revving Up Green Machines
Are Propellers Fin-ished?
Weather
The Best Defense Is a Good Snow Fence
Weekend Weather Really Is Different
Polar Ice Feels the Heat
Add your Article

A Butterfly's Electric Glow

The blue-green streaks of a swallowtail butterfly’s wings are more than just beautiful. They’re also a lesson in physics.

The bands of brilliant color on this butterfly's wing are produced from tiny scales on the wing's surface.

The bands of brilliant color on this butterfly’s wing are produced from tiny scales on the wing’s surface.

Image courtesy of Peter Vukusic/University of Exeter

Swallowtails that belong to a group called Princeps nireus actually have fluorescent wings. This means that when the wings absorb a special type of light, called ultraviolet light (or “black light”), they give off a bright blue-green glow. The glow that they give off has a longer wavelength than the ultraviolet light they absorb.

Physicist Peter Vukusic of Exeter University wanted to figure out why the wings are unusually bright. So, he took a close-up look.

Butterfly wings are covered with hundreds of thousands of colored scales, like tiles covering a roof. The scales are made of cuticle, a material that is similar to human fingernails. Vukusic and his colleagues used highly sensitive microscopes to look at individual scales.

Optical microscope image of a single scale from a butterfly wing.

Optical microscope image of a single scale from a butterfly wing.

Image courtesy of Peter Vukusic/University of Exeter

Their pictures show that each scale has three vertical levels. The bottom level is itself split up into three more layers, like an Oreo cookie, with an air space sandwiched between two layers of cuticle. Each layer is about 90 nanometers thick. One nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A human hair is about 80,000 nanometers wide.

The middle level is a 1.5-micrometer-thick air space, held together by columns of cuticle. One micrometer is one-millionth of a meter, or 1,000 nanometers.

Finally, the top level is made of cuticle arranged in a sort of honeycomb pattern, 2 micrometers thick. The honeycomb holds tiny cylinders of air, measuring 240 nanometers across. The walls of these cylinders hold the pigments that cause the wings to glow, or fluoresce.

The wings seem to achieve their bright glow in two ways, the scientists conclude. First, the pigment-filled cylinders in the top level and the Oreo sandwich in the bottom level cause all of the fluorescence to reflect out of the top of the wing. Second, the bottom level adds even more blue-green light by reflecting sunlight that filters down and hits it.

Peter Vukusic with several different butterflies that have wings covered with special scales that brighten the color.

Peter Vukusic with several different butterflies that have wings covered with special scales that brighten the color.

Image courtesy of Peter Vukusic/University of Exeter

Some electronic devices called light-emitting diodes (LEDs) work in a remarkably similar way. LEDs light up the numbers on clocks and watches and show when appliances are on, among many other jobs.

It’s another amazing example of technology imitating nature, whether intended or not.—E. Sohn

A Butterfly's Electric Glow
A Butterfly's Electric Glow








Designed and Powered by HBJamaica.com™