Butterfly Sparks Industry Revolution

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Blue morpho

About a month ago I wrote about the success of the San Diego Zoo’s first fall biomimicry event: Biomimicry, Innovation, and Sustainability, featuring Pete Foley of Procter and Gamble (see Biomimicry Fall Event Series). I am excited to report that our second event, held Wednesday, October 27, was also a hit!

The topic was “Biomimicry and the Efficiency Revolution” and featured a biomimicry case study. Cheryl Goodman, director of marketing for Qualcomm MEMS Technologies, Inc., took us on the journey from biological inspiration to biomimetic implementation of mirasol®, a display innovation from Qualcomm. Her talk was entitled, “mirasol® Case Study: How the humble butterfly may spark an industry revolution.”

mirasol® is one of our favorite examples to highlight when we discuss biomimicry. Not only is it a complete story (and a successful one), Qualcomm just happens to be a local San Diego company. The story goes that an engineer was lying in a hospital bed and thought what a wonderful thing it would be to harness available light around us and use it to produce color. Being familiar with physics, he knew that many colors in nature don’t come from pigments at all but light waves reflected in the visible range (think blue skies and peacock feathers). He put together a small team of scientists and began to work. Ten years later and an integration with Qualcomm, and we arrive at mirasol® displays.

As Cheryl explains, LCD displays currently in phones feature a powerful backlight of which only six percent actually reaches your eye. As you can imagine, this is a significantly inefficient and battery-draining mechanism. mirasol® displays use the ambient light as their illumination source, absorbing those light waves, and, like nature, reflecting them back at your eye as color. The name mirasol® comes from the Spanish words for “see” and “sun,” mira and sol, and its symbol is the morpho butterfly, an insect that achieves a brilliant blue color without any sort of pigment at all.

The event was held in the Zoo’s Flamingo Sandwich Co., where there were plates aplenty of cheese and vegetables, a fully stocked wine bar, and a comfortable array of tables. We were treated to a special animal presentation featuring Shaman, the great-horned owl. After a quick introduction by Zoo CFO Paula Brock, Cheryl inspired us all with the coming industry revolution.

These events are incredibly special to be a part of, and if you haven’t been able to make it in the past, there is still one more opportunity. On Thursday, November 18, we will welcome Dr. Lynn Reaser, chief economist for the Point Loma Nazarene University Fermanian Business and Economic Institute. She will be speaking on the topic “Biomimicry and the New Economy,” highlighting the (very exciting) results of a biomimicry economic impact study.

To register, visit the Biomimicry section of our Web site. We hope you can join us!

To hear more about mirasol®, biomimicry, and the San Diego Zoo, listen to this KPBS feature.

Dena Emmerson is a biomimicry research assistant at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Biomimicry: Swarm Intelligence.

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