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Domain morphology, boundaries, and topological defects in biophotonic gyroid nanostructures of butterfly wing scales.


Many organisms in nature have evolved sophisticated cellular mechanisms to produce photonic nanostructures and, in recent years, diverse crystalline symmetries have been identified and related to macroscopic optical properties. However, because we know little about the distributions of domain sizes, the orientations of photonic crystals, and the nature of defects in these structures, we are unable to make the connection between the nanostructure and its development and functionality. We report on nondestructive studies of the morphology of chitinous photonic crystals in butterfly wing scales. Using spatially and angularly resolved x-ray diffraction, we find that the domains are highly oriented with respect to the whole scale, indicating growth from scale boundaries. X-ray coherent diffractive imaging reveals two types of crystalline domain interfaces: abrupt changes between domains emerging from distinct nucleation sites and smooth transitions with edge dislocations presumably resulting from internal stresses during nanostructure development. Our study of the scale structure reveals new aspects of photonic crystal growth in butterfly wings and shows their similarity to block copolymer materials. It opens new avenues to exploration of fundamental processes underlying the growth of biological photonic nanostructures in a variety of species.

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