Butterflies no longer just have aesthetic appeal: Soon they could change the way security is used in the paper money industry.

The color scheme and structure of butterfly wings has been intriguing scientists for some time. Three researchers of the University of Cambridge decided to organize a study of the Indonesian Peacock or Swallowtail butterfly to delve into the mystery.

A Colorful New Discovery

In the process, Mathias Kolle, Professor Ullrich Steiner and Professor Jeremy Baumberg discovered a way to replicate the striking composition of colors found on the wings of a butterfly. The scientists’ method produced colors that had the ability to change under different lights and angles.

“We have unlocked one of nature’s secrets and combined this knowledge with state-of-the-art nanofabrication to mimic the intricate optical designs found in nature,” Kolle said. “Although nature is better at self-assembly than we are, we have the advantage that we can use a wider variety of artificial, custom-made materials to optimize our optical structures.”

The study will not only answer many questions physicists and biologists have about the iridescent colors displayed on these creatures, but it will also prove useful to the paper security industry.

How Butterfly Wings Could Help Prevent Fraud

By using the artificial structures, printers would be able to encrypt information on bank notes and other valuable items to create an optical signature. It would be nearly impossible to forge the information hidden within the signature.

The Cambridge scientists speculated butterflies could use their uniquely colored wings in much the same way as we might use the fabricated optical structures for:

“The shiny green patches on this tropical butterfly’s wing scales are a stunning example of nature’s ingenuity in optical design. Seen with the right optical equipment these patches appear bright blue, but with the naked eye they appear green,” Kolle said.

This could explain why the butterfly has evolved this way of producing color. If its eyes see fellow butterflies as bright blue, while predators only see green patches in a green tropical environment, then it can hide from predators at the same time as remaining visible to members of its own species.”

Although the discovery could end up being very influential, the system still has some tweaks and changes to undergo before it could be used on items such as passports and dollar bills. For now, the research is more interesting than practical as far as financial systems are concerned.

More information can be found on the News and Events page of the Cambridge University website.

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