The new material could also produce highly sensitive light sensors and sustainable batteries, they said.
Eijiro Miyako and colleagues at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology said Morpho butterfly wings have natural properties beyond the capabilities of any current technology to reproduce artificially. They are lightweight, thin and flexible, can absorb solar energy, shed water quickly and are self-cleaning, the researchers said.
Working with tiny cylinders of carbon dubbed carbon nanotubes (CNTs) -- and fascinated with their unique electrical, mechanical, thermal and optical properties -- Miyako and his team decided to combine the butterfly wings and nanotubes into all-new "nanobiocomposite" material.
Reporting their results in the journal ACS Nano, they describe growing a honeycomb network of carbon nanotubes on Morpho butterfly wings.
The resulting material, when activated with a laser, heated up faster than the original components by themselves, exhibited high electrical conductivity and had the ability to copy DNA on its surface without absorbing it, they said.
"Our present study highlights the important progress that has been made toward the development of smart nanobiomaterials for various applications such as digital diagnosis, soft wearable electronic devices, photosensors, and photovoltaic cells," they wrote.
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