£3.2m ($5.4 million) research project to capture brilliance of butterfly wings

November 09, 2009

The brilliance of butterfly wings has inspired a £3.2m, three-year research project that promises to deliver innovation in the fields of security, energy and the environment. The University of Exeter and international technology company QinetiQ have just signed a collaborative contract to develop new technologies based on groundbreaking physical sciences research.

Over the next three years a team of physicists from the University of Exeter and QinetiQ will work together to develop new technologies, based on their discoveries in the field of tailored electromagnetic materials - made by studying the wings of butterflies. The team has uncovered the way in which the physical properties of butterflies' wings produce iridescence. By mimicking the unique structures of these wings, they aim to develop new products in the markets of anti-counterfeit technology, radio-frequency identification technology, wi-fi efficiency and security.

The project is funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's (EPSRC) £55m Knowledge Transfer Accounts (KTA), which were established to help translate research into business innovation.

The team aims to launch its first innovation in spring 2010 and will be hosting a number of investor forum events at the University and in London. These evenings are part of the KTA's commitment to develop a lasting relationship and engagement with business angel networks and venture capitalists.

Dr Andrew Shaw of the University of Exeter said: "This project represents a major opportunity for us to use our expertise to benefit society. Our physical sciences research is world-class and this partnership gives us the capacity to take it to the next level by applying it to the development of new ideas. It is also gives us an opportunity to help create a lasting legacy of investor culture in the South West, which will support the development of Exeter's Science Park."

"Butterfly wings create a myriad of visual effects through subtle changes in the size, shape or structure of fine scales on their surface which can refract or absorb light and produce vivid colours," added Dr Andrew Treen, QinetiQ's entrepreneur within the project. "By understanding the underlying optical properties, we can develop and apply the principles to a variety of other commercial applications in the infrared, microwave and radio wave segments of the spectrum and develop solutions that will help society. The natural world still holds many of secrets but this project will hopefully unlock a few more of them."

The contract between the University of Exeter and QinetiQ formalises a ten-year research and development relationship that has already led to the development of seven patents.
-end-
About QinetiQ

QinetiQ is a leading international provider of technology-based services and solutions to the defence, security, energy and environment markets. QinetiQ develops and delivers services and solutions for government organisations, predominantly in the UK and US, including defence departments, intelligence services and security agencies. In addition, QinetiQ provides technology insertion and consultancy services to commercial and industrial customers around the world. www.qinetiq.com

About the EPSRC

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests more than £850 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation tackle the challenges of the 21st Century. www.epsrc.ac.uk

University of Exeter

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