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A man wearing sunglasses. There is a zoom box indicating the sunglasses are covered in tiny cones.

These sunglasses are coated with a new material invented to reduce glare. The material was inspired by the eyes of moths!
Image: Gabriel Loget/UC Irvine

Written by Sarah Kellett

The way a moth’s eyes have adapted to darkness may help us stop glare from the Sun.

Despite their tendency to circle light bulbs, moths have eyes that are designed for darkness. Each eye has a bumpy pattern that stops light reflecting off the surface, possibly helping the moth see in the dark and hide from predators.

For years, scientists have been trying to replicate the effect. They hope that adding a similar pattern to electronic devices could prevent glare when sunlight hits your TV, computer screen or phone. It could also make solar panels more efficient by reducing how much light bounces off them, while stopping any dazzling reflections.

There’s been some success. Extremely tiny shapes, similar to those found in a moth’s eye, have been made using metals, silicon and plastics. Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, recently described how to etch a pattern of nano-sized cones on Teflon, the non-stick material famously found on frying pans.

After coating a thin film of Teflon with a layer of tiny polystyrene balls, they exposed it to a corrosive chemical. The polystyrene partially protected the Teflon, leaving millions of tiny nanocones etched into the surface. In the process, the Teflon film turned from transparent to white, a sign that light was being scattered. Then they added a thin layer of gold to the cones. To their surprise and, at first, concern, they noticed what looked like soot had appeared on the surface. In fact, the material had turned black and was antireflective, bouncing less than one per cent of incoming light.

As well as reducing glare, the aptly named black gold also conducts electricity and repels water. It seems the magnificent moth eye has much to teach us.

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