Research, Technology

Scientists invent ultra-light paint by peeping at butterflies

We owe many inventions to animals,which have often inspired scientists. And it seems that the animal world is able to suggest a lot of other ideas for future inventions. For example, in a recent study, a group of scientists from the University of Central Florida reported that they created “plasma paint” inspired by butterfly wings. The coating has energy-saving properties, as it does not heat up in the sun, and can also serve for centuries and is available in absolutely any color. But that's not all - the coating has an ultra-light weight. To paint a Boeing 747, only 1.4 kg of such paint is enough. Its only drawback is that it was created in the laboratory and, apparently, it will not go into mass production soon.

Scientists create ultra-light paint inspired by butterflies

Plasma paint - what is it?

The main feature of this paint isthat it does not contain pigment. The color is created structurally due to the specific arrangement of the nanoparticles. This is precisely the similarity with the wings of butterflies, in which the color of the wings is formed not only by the pigment, but also by the structure of the scales that reflect light. The team came up with the idea to call such paint “plasma”.

All currently existing paintsbased on pigments. That is, in order to create a particular color, certain molecules are added to them. As a rule, such molecules are synthesized artificially. Color depends on the electronic properties of these molecules—they determine which light a pigment absorbs or reflects. Accordingly, each paint color requires its own pigment or mixture of pigments.

Butterfly wings and plasma paint form a color according to the same principle

In plasma paint, regardless of colorthe same nanoparticles are used. They are made of two colorless materials - aluminum and its oxide. By placing these nanoparticles on top of an aluminum mirror in different ways, it is possible to change how light is scattered, absorbed or reflected. Simply put, you can get any color from just two colorless materials.

It is thanks to the structural color that the paintit turns out ultra-light - to get a solid color, it does not need to be applied in a thick layer. It allows you to get rich color when applied with a thickness of only 150 nanometers.

Unique properties of plasma paint

According to the results of the study,published in the journal Science Advances, the paint not only has incredible mass, but also keeps painted structures cool, even when exposed to direct sunlight. This effect of plasma paint is provided due to the fact that it reflects the entire infrared spectrum. As a result, it absorbs less heat.

Metal butterflies painted with plasma paint

According to the inventors of paint, surfaces underit remains 13-16 degrees Celsius colder than surfaces in the same conditions, but covered with any other paint. Currently, about 10% of all electricity consumed in the United States is consumed by air conditioners. Therefore, the use of this paint will significantly save energy.

In addition, scientists argue that the coating canserve for centuries, at least in theory. And you can be 100% sure that the paint will never fade or change its color. Ordinary paint tarnishes because the pigment it contains loses its ability to absorb photons.

Recall that earlier scientists inventedgraphene anti-corrosion paint. Theoretically, if one paint is applied on top of another, then metal structures could indeed be protected with a paint coating for many decades or even centuries.

Less than one and a half kilograms of plasma paint is enough to completely paint a Boeing 747

What is the difficulty of producing ultra-light paint

The process of making a plasmapaint is simple, and even applying it in a thin layer is not a problem. However, it is important that the nanoparticles are located on the substrate in a certain way, providing the surface with one color or another. To do this, the team used an electron beam evaporator, which acts on the substance with a stream of electrons. With it, they heated the paint, and thus ensured that it dried at a precisely controlled rate.

Thanks to controlled evaporation, smallclusters of nanoparticles adhere to each other in a certain way. This effect is provided due to the fact that aluminum atoms attract each other. By varying the pressure and temperature of the electron beam evaporator, different paint colors can be created.

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Now it's up to the small thing - to scaletechnology for the manufacture and application of paint so that it can be used not only in laboratory conditions. Scientists are currently working on it. Finally, we recall that earlier scientists invented paint from nanoparticles, only gold was used for it, and it had the ability to change colors.