The "common rose" is a name that makes one butterfly sound rather ordinary. It might be down to its appearance: jet-black wings and a body with only a few spots of color. Compared to the glorious colors its fellow butterflies are sporting, Mother Nature has not been very generous with it. At least, that's how things appear at first glance. Guillaume and his colleagues from the KIT have taken a second look at it through an electron microscope, a move that temporarily turned their research on its head.
As a materials scientist with a PhD to his name, Guillaume has spent most of his scientific career conducting research into ways of boosting the efficiency of solar cells. While studying for his master's in Strasbourg, and then as he wrote his doctoral thesis at the University of Lyon, he was always fascinated by the idea of harnessing the power of nature.
I was blown away when a colleague told me about the high amount of light this butterfly can absorb and the countless nanoholes in its wings.Guillaume
This is nature's version of high technology. And Guillaume loves shifting perspectives – he finds it inspires his research. That means he looks at things from many different angles. Or even from a butterfly's perspective. After studying the holes in its wings, he set out to apply these structures to science. To use the genius of nature to benefit science. One could say he was leveraging four billion years of research.
"We've managed to imitate the structure of the wings in an artificial material and thus equip a thin-film solar cell. The result was nothing short of incredible." The absorption of the incident light can be boosted by up to 200 percent compared to the conventional, unpatterned thin absorbing layers. The many small nanoholes in this cold-blooded animal's wings allow the "common rose" to generate a vast amount of heat and energy. In fact, it enabled Guillaume to achieve a minor scientific breakthrough.
But, turning a scientific breakthrough into a viable product is no easy feat. Especially as a university researcher. "At some point I thought: I want to see my research being used for innovations." So he decided to shift his perspective. Even if he only moved a few hundred meters down the street.
At the ZEISS Innovation Hub in Karlsruhe, just a few blocks from his former lab, Guillaume has managed to bridge the gap between conducting applied research and creating innovative products. His current mission is to consider existing materials and sensor technologies and adapt them for new applications. To turn them on their heads and reconfigure them. In other words, to shift perspectives.
How does optical coherence tomography benefit high-precision industrial measuring instruments? How can it be integrated into 3D printing processes? Guillaume looks at existing systems from an unusual angle. He has thus spent a long time training his scientific eye. "I'm always delighted to see that people don't stop researching just because they've moved from academia to industry."
His 30,000 colleagues all over the world help Guillaume bring his research ideas to life. Application examples, dead ends in development or breakthroughs under the microscope: "Being able to rely on such a wealth of experience and a broad network is invaluable. Diverse companies like ZEISS thrive on continuous knowledge sharing. And this benefits me as a scientist, too."
Integrating various perspectives into his scientific work also supports Guillaume's personal development. There’s no doubt that a shift in perspective is the secret to his success. Could it also help this common butterfly earn an exceptional reputation?