Scientists at the Australian National University have invented tiny structures, inspired by butterfly wings, that open the door to new solar cell technologies and other applications requiring precise manipulation of light.

A month ago scientists at the ANU surpassed silicon solar cell efficiency records with “tandem” perovskite and silicon cells. The new technique could greatly improve the efficiency of these cells by finely controlling the scattering, reflection and absorption of different colours of light.

The aim is to absorb all of the blue, green and ultraviolet colours of sunlight in a perovskite layer of the solar cell; and all of the red, orange and yellow light in a silicon layer.

The inspiration for the cell’s nanostructure came from the blue Morpho Didius butterfly, which has wings with tiny cone-shaped structures that scatter light to create a striking blue iridescence. The research team made similar structures at the nanoscale and applied the same principles as in the butterfly wing to finely control the direction of light.

Lead researcher, Dr Niraj Lal, said that their technique is very scalable and did not require expensive technology because these intricate nanostructures grow and assemble themselves.