Fast, chemically-selective sensing of vapors using an optical readout can be achieved with the photonic nanoarchitectures occurring in the wing scales of butterflies possessing structural color. These nanoarchitectures are built of chitin and air. The Albulina metallica
butterfly is remarkable as both the dorsal (blue) and ventral (gold-green) cover scales are colored by the same type (pepper-pot) of photonic nanoarchitecture, exhibiting only a short-range order. The vapors of ten different volatiles were tested for sensing on whole wing pieces and some of the volatiles were tested on single scales as well, both in reflected and transmitted light. Chemically-selective responses were obtained showing that selectivity can be increased by using arrays of sensors. The sensing behavior is similar in single scales and on whole wing pieces, and is similar in reflected and transmitted light. By immersing single scales in an index-matching fluid for chitin, both the light scattering and the photonic nanoarchitecture were switched off, and the differences in pigment content were revealed. By artificially stacking several layers of blue scales on top of each other, both the intensity of the characteristic photonic signal in air and the magnitude of the vapor sensing response for 50% ethanol vapor in artificial air were increased.
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