Butterflies beat engineers by 30 million years, according to an article in BBC online news and news@nature 17 Nov 2005, Science, vol 310, p1151, 18 Nov 2005 n NZ Herald 22 Nov 2005. Physicists at Exeter University, UK have studied the wing scales of brightly coloured butterflies named Princeps nirens to see how they produce such brilliant glowing colour. Here is the first paragraph of their paper: “In synthetic optical emitters such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), the majority of generated light is trapped internally. Recently developed high-efficiency devices, however, use two-dimensional (2D) photonic-crystal geometries to enhance the extraction efficiency of light, and the devices also use distributed Bragg reflectors (DBRs) to control emission direction. Here we detail the elaborate optical emission system on the wing scales of a small group of butterflies. Their scales comprise a pigment-infused 2D photonic crystal that provides intense directed fluorescence, which is directionally enhanced by a DBR. This biological system shares many design features with high-emission LEDs.”

Photonic crystals are used in high-tech light emitting diodes (LEDs) in electronic displays. They are designed to channel light of a specific wavelength in a desired direction through microscopic channels, without it spreading out and losing its intensity. The physics of photonic crystals was only discovered human optical engineers less than a decade ago, but according to the BBC, “When scientists developed an efficient device for emitting light, they hadn’t realised butterflies have been using the same method for 30 million years.” Peter Vukusic, who led the study, commented to the BBC: “The way light is extracted from the butterfly’s system is more than an analogy – it is all but identical in design to the LED.” The NZ Herald quotes Vukusic: “It’s amazing that butterflies have evolved such sophisticated design features which can so exquisitely manipulate light and colour. Nature’s design and engineering is truly inspirational.”

The news@nature article is entitled “Butterflies shine brighter by design”.


Editorial Comment: Did you notice the number of times the word “design” was used when referring to the photonic crystals in butterfly wings. It is clear that these scientists can recognise design when they see it, and science news services, such Science and Nature and the BBC, are prepared to report their findings. However, all of these organisations regularly pour scorn on anyone who claims that living organisms, including butterflies, are the product of creative design. At the same time they insist on patent and copyright fees being rightly given to creators of physical or intellectual inventions such as LEDs. This is sheer hypocrisy, and serves as a reminder that God meant what He said in the Bible that the evidence of His character and work in the world is clearly seen in the creation, and all those who ignore or deny it are without excuse. (Romans 1:20) 

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