A team in China has succeeded in making metallic butterfly wings — not from scratch, or by imitation, but by actually depositing metal onto the wings and removing the original organic substance. This technique not only promises interesting optical materials; it assumes a good design is worth copying.
We earlier described how precise geometric patterns on butterfly wings produce brilliant colors. These patterns, called photonic crystals, are highly desirable in a number of human applications. But attempts to fabricate the patterns at nanoscopic scales have proven difficult.
Jiajun Gu, Di Zhang and their colleagues at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China first added gold nanoparticles to the surface of the wing scales, which are made from the tough polysaccharide chitin. They then deposited a metallic coating on the structures before removing the organic material. The large variety of butterfly-wing morphologies means that every butterfly bears scales of different shapes and size.
Implicit in these efforts is the assumption that natural designs are good and useful. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” it is often said. But in this case, who is being imitated and flattered? The butterfly? No insect has the capacity to plan out its photonic crystals, wings, antennae, compound eyes or other elaborate structures. Much less does natural selection or any other unguided natural process have such a power.
Designs with functions as effective and beautiful as a flashing butterfly wing point to a designing intelligence that understands both function and beauty that other designing intelligences would appreciate and would wish to imitate.
To learn more about butterflies and the evidence they reveal for intelligent design, visit Metamorphosisthefilm.com.