GE turns butterfly-inspired tech into cheap, accurate thermal sensors (video)

GE butterfly sensor

When last we heard from GE and its Morpho-butterfly inspired sensors, all the talk was about detecting chemicals. And, with $6.3 million in funding coming from DARPA, we're not surprised. In the latest issue of Nature Photonics, however, the company's researchers show that the wing-like structures are just as good at detecting heat as they are ricin attacks. By coating them with carbon nanotubes the team was able to create a sensor sensitive to temperature changes as small as 0.02 degrees Celsius with a response rate of 1/40 of a second. The sensors could eventually find their way into imaging devices and medical equipment, and are expected to cost just a fraction of similar technologies currently on the market. Of course, since DARPA is still involved with the project, there are some potential security uses as well -- such as screening devices and fire detection. Head after the break for a video and some PR.

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New Butterfly-inspired Design From GE To Enable More Advanced, Low Cost Thermal Imaging Devices

Nanostructures on Morpho butterfly wings coated with carbon nanotubes can sense temperature changes down to 0.02 degrees Celsius, at a response rate of 1/40 of a second
New bio-inspired design by GE scientists could enable more advanced applications for industrial inspection, medical diagnostics, and the military ·
Discovery reported in Nature Photonics

NISKAYUNA, N.Y., February 13, 2012 – Taking heat detection to a new level of sensitivity and speed, a team of scientists at GE Global Research, the technology development arm for the General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), announced new bio-inspired nanostructured systems that could outperform thermal imaging devices available today. This discovery adds to a growing list of new capabilities that GE researchers have developed through their studies of Morpho butterfly wings. To see a video demonstration of the discovered thermal response in butterfly scales, -click here-.

GE scientists are exploring many potential thermal imaging and sensing applications with their new detection concept such as medical diagnostics, surveillance, non-destructive inspection and others, where visual heat maps of imaged areas serve as a valuable condition indicator. Some examples include:

Thermal Imaging for advanced medical diagnosis - to better visualize inflammation in the body and understand changes in a patient's health earlier.
Advanced thermal vision - to see things at night and during the day in much greater detail than what is possible today.
Fire thermal Imaging – to aid firefighters with new handheld devices to enhance firefighter safety in operational situations
Thermal security surveillance - to improve public safety and homeland protection
Thermal characterization of wound infections – to facilitate early diagnosis.

"The iridescence of Morpho butterflies has inspired our team for yet another technological opportunity. This time we see the potential to develop the next generation of thermal imaging sensors that deliver higher sensitivity and faster response times in a more simplified, cost-effective design," said Dr. Radislav Potyrailo, Principal Scientist at GE Global Research who leads GE's bio-inspired photonics programs. "This new class of thermal imaging sensors promises significant improvements over existing detectors in their image quality, speed, sensitivity, size, power requirements, and cost."

Dr. Potyrailo added, "GE's bio-inspired design also promises exciting new thermal imaging applications such as in advanced medical diagnostics to detect changes in a person's health or in thermal vision goggles for the military to allow soldiers to see things during the day and at night with much greater specificity and detail."

Thermal imaging is utilized in a variety of industrial, medical and military applications today, ranging from the non-invasive inspection of industrial components and medical diagnostics to military applications such as thermal vision goggles and others. GE's new bio-inspired nanostructured system could enable an even broader application of thermal imaging by improving the manufacturability, image resolution, sensitivity, and response time of new systems. These advances would enable the production of more advanced systems at much lower cost.

Dr. Potyrailo assembled a research team that studied the origin and details of thermal response of Morpho butterfly wing scales. The team included Professor Helen Ghiradella from the Department of Biological Sciences, University at Albany; and Andrew Pris, Yogen Utturkar, Cheryl Surman, William Morris, Alexey Vert, Sergiy Zalyubovskiy, and Tao Deng from GE Global Research.

This discovery is a result of extensive studies conducted at GE Global Research on the technological applications of photonic properties of Morpho butterfly wing scales led by Dr. Potyrailo. Dr. Potyrailo noted that his multi-organization teams are also working on the fabrication of photonic nanostructures inspired by Morpho butterfly wing scales for highly selective vapor sensing applications, with commercial applications that could reach the market within the next five years.

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