Top image courtesy Rushen (CC BY-SA 4.0). More of his photos are available here.
I recently had the chance to interview Bor-Kai (Bill) Hsiung, a biomimicry expert at the University of Akron, about the latest development in his breakthrough research involving blue tarantulas and nanotechnology.
What do these two things have in common, you ask?
Blue tarantulas possess a striking non-iridescent shade of blue that doesn’t change when viewed at different angles. That blue color evolved independently among tarantulas at least 8 times, but they don’t really need it because of their poor eyesight. But Bill’s team said the discovery could one day lead to new ways to improve computer or TV screens using biomimicry, nanotechnology and 3D-nano-printing.
“They could be used as pigment replacements in materials such as plastics, metal, textiles and paper, and for producing color for wide-angle viewing systems in phones, televisions and other optical devices,” He said.
I first leaned of Bill’s research in December 2015, and in April 2016 I had the opportunity to interview him for the first time. Then, we covered a little bit of everything, from biomimetics 101 to STEM and STEAM education. At the time, his team had designed five models of real tarantula hairs that varied in complexity. However, they wanted to dig deeper and actually fabricate those five designs using 3D nano-printing technology to test their hypotheses experimentally and determine which features produce blue and which remove iridescence.
So they turned to crowdfunding to make it happen. And it worked! SHortly after that interview, Bill and his team were back in the lab.
In the latest round of lab work, the team created a series of computer simulations and physical prototypes using cutting-edge nano-3D printing technology. What they found was that they could almost completely wipe out any iridescence using a highly periodic structure with a flower-like shape similar to those seen in blue tarantulas. They also found that the color produced by the 3D printed structures has a viewing angle of 160 degrees — the largest viewing angle of any synthetic structural colors demonstrated so far.
Last week, Bill sent me an email telling me that his work was complete. I poured over the study and my research materials for a few days and sent off an excited email full of new questions.
You can read my interview and background material on STEAMRegister.com.