Nature-inspired materials described by UBC scientist in public talk

Plants and animals have evolved remarkable materials, such as silk, bone, and skin, for structure and function.  Some of these materials have amazing properties that are MacLachlan Photo for Vernoninspiring materials scientists in their pursuit to create new materials with improved strength, durability, and elasticity.  Dr. Mark MacLachlan, researcher and professor of
chemistry and nanomaterials at the University of British Columbia, is in the business of creating such materials and he will reveal some of his latest inventions during his presentation Bug Shells and Butterfly Wings: Can nature inspire the creation of new materials? at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus lecture theatre on Thursday, Apr. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Recently inducted into the Royal Society of Canada, MacLachlan works with materials one-thousandth of the width of a hair and which can only be “seen” with an electron microscope.  In this public talk, he will describe his work to develop new materials that mimic the coloration of beetles and butterflies.

Dr. MacLachlan and his colleagues have created a form of glass with holes arranged in a spiral structure. “Because of the helical structure of the holes,” explains MacLachlan, “the glass is iridescent. It reflects certain wavelengths of light, so the materials look coloured when viewed on a black background. Beetles’ shells actually have the same spiraling structure.” These materials are important for developing reflective window coatings, sensors, and many other applications.

“We’ve developed other materials that have a similar helical structure”, says MacLachlan. “One thing we’re trying to make now is plastics that will change colour when you stretch them. The distance of the spiral dictates what light it reflects, so if you squish the material it changes colour. We’re looking at them for pressure sensors.”

MacLachlan’s talk is part of the Science in Society Speaker Series (a joint project by Okanagan Science Centre and the Okanagan College), which is sponsored by the Best Western Vernon Lodge, Cooper’s Foods, Starbucks Coffee, the Vernon Morning Star.

Admission is $7 in advance or $10 at the door. For tickets, call the Okanagan Science Centre at 250-545-3644. To subscribe or obtain more information about the Science in Society Speaker Series, visit

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