Technology & Science

Butterflies may hold key to more secure bank cards

The way light hits a tropical butterfly's wings could make your bank card safer, according to a new U.K. study.
The way butterfly wings reflect light could hold the key to much stronger encryption. ((Associated Press))
The way light hits a tropical butterfly's wings could make your bank card safer, according to a new U.K. study.

That's because scientists are now able to mimic the cell structure of butterfly scales to encrypt information on banknotes and other secure cards, researchers at Britain's Cambridge University say.

"We have unlocked one of nature's secrets and combined this knowledge with state-of-the-art nanofabrication to mimic the intricate optical designs found in nature," said lead researcher Mathias Kolle on the university's website.

"We still need to refine our system, but in future we could see structures based on butterflies' wings shining from a (pound) note or even our passports," he said.

Secure documents and currencies often contain encoded data intended to frustrate criminals. Using butterfly technology would make this kind of protection even more secure, Kolle said.

Shiny lights

Butterflies, among other creatures, reflect light not by bouncing the light off of colored pigment, but passing the beams  through microscopic cell structures on the animal similar in shape to an egg carton, the scientists reported in an article published in the latest edition of Nature Nanotechnology.

On a tropical butterfly, light passes through alternating layers of cuticle — a very thin film of transparent cartilage covering the surface of the animal — and air, producing intense colors.

By using nanotechnology, Kolle and his fellow researchers were able to replicate the cell structure and thus the colors, the paper said.

That type of technology could be used on bank cards, currency notes and other secure cards.