Aug 12, 2010 (The Hartford Courant – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) —
The tiny crevices of butterfly wings are the ideal design for nanotechnology that could make subway stations safer, according to scientists at Fairfield-based General Electric Co.
Three years ago, GE scientists learned that scales on butterflies wings have little nooks aligned in a manner that is perfect for sensing tiny particles of chemicals. GE then replicated the butterfly wings with nanotechnology to sense chemicals in bombs. The resulting technology could be used to detect chemicals in subway stations or other public places.
The equipment could also be used for monitoring emissions at power plants, food-and-beverage safety, water purification testing, breath analysis to detect diseases and assessing how well wounds are healing.
On Thursday, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency gave a four-year, $6.3 million award to a group of scientists including those at GE Global Research, the State University of New York-Albany, University of Exeter, and Air Force Research Laboratory to develop nanotechnology devices that will more quickly and accurately detect chemicals used in explosives or other implements of war.
“We have been greatly inspired by examples of naturally occurring optical structures whose properties arise from an intricate morphology,” said Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager Viktoria Greanya. “For example, the brilliant colors seen in butterfly wings, beetle carapaces, and peacock feathers are due in large part to their complex structure, not simply their color.”
For perspective, GE researchers say a nanometer is relative in size to a tennis ball as a tennis ball is to the size of Earth.
“GE’s bio-inspired sensing platform could dramatically increase sensitivity, speed and accuracy for detecting dangerous chemical threats,” said Radislav Potyrailo, a principal scientist at GE Global Research. “All of these factors are critical, not only from the standpoint of preventing exposure, but in monitoring an effective medical response if necessary to deal with such threats.”
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