Nanotechnology inspired by butterfly wings

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A technology that was originally developed for computer chips is now being used to shape textures on plastic surfaces. The result is cleaner and greener.

Butterfly robot

It all started on an unremarkable afternoon in Anders Kristensen’s office back in 2009. The DTU Nanotech professor was in a meeting with Theodor Nielsen, founder and CEO of NIL Technology ApS. The two men had previously worked together on a technology focused on producing computer chips and optical components. The question was whether they could come up with a different use for the same technology?  It was late in the day, when the researchers pushed back from the meeting table. ►They had an idea.

“We’re surrounded by plastic, so we thought it might be possible to use the technology to create functional surfaces, such as self-cleaning surfaces, through injection moulding. This would mean taking a technology developed for computer chips, and bringing it into play in a completely different industry,”

relates Anders Kristensen

An award wining idea

And the idea proved to be a good one. In 2014, the researchers were presented with an award at a major EU conference in Athens for their work on developing the new technique for surface treating plastic, where nanotextures are cast directly in the surface of the plastic components, obviating the need for colours, chemicals and environmentally inappropriate post-treatment. The technology can be used in the production of toys, cars, and so on.

“Nanotechnology allows you to alter the surface structure of a given material and make it change colour. Each colour corresponds to a specific wavelength of light, and changing the surface structure allows you to control which light waves are reflected. The same concept applies to butterfly wings, whose microscopic surface structures generate different colour combinations.”

European cooperation

The European research project entitled Plast4Future is now to continue as the IZADI-Nano2Industry project, where researchers will use the same technology to apply aesthetically pleasing decorations to cars. According to Anders Kristensen, the benefits of nanotechnology are indisputable: the industry can produce cleaner, greener plastic that is also cheaper and easier to recycle.

Adapted from article by Christina Taekker, DTU News 

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