How do you bridge your work in the lab to the world outside of it?
People often look at the work scientists do and ask how it benefits humans. What I think the public needs to understand is that many of the huge discoveries in health and medicine came from very basic science that wasn’t expected to lead to any great innovation. Scientists were just interested in answering basic questions.
When it comes to the work we’re doing with butterflies, there is outside interest in the phenomenon of structural coloration as a way to make color that does not fade. For example, the problem with paint is that it often fades over time as sunlight hits it. But if you have something that is structurally colored – instead of colored by a pigment – then it wouldn’t be destroyed by light and would maintain its color for a long time.
We also work on transparency in butterflies, which have evolved an anti-glare coating. If you wear glasses, for example, you can get lenses that do not reflect light. Butterflies figured out how to do this with their wings about 50 million years ago. We can look at this to see if it’s possible to apply in our daily lives. For example, if we had surfaces that didn’t reflect as much light, they may make improved solar cells.