• Photo: Michael and Patricia/Minden Pictures/National Geographic

With their beautiful colouration and structural complexities, the shimmering wings of the blue morpho butterfly have long fascinated scientists.

Now a Vancouver-based nanotechnology company and researchers from Simon Fraser University have figured out how to use the unique properties of the butterfly’s wing for a purpose ever more pertinent in an era when goods are so easily reproduced: anti-counterfeiting.

Nanotech Security Corp. uses what it calls nano-optic technology to create a product that is easily mass-produced but incredibly hard to replicate.

“We took a look at the morpho butterfly’s wings and the first thing that scientists or nanotechnologists will remark is ‘Wow, those are really complex,’ ” says Clint Landrock, the executive vice president of product at Nanotech, who researched the topic as a graduate student at Simon Fraser. “So we started to design structures that would be simplified versions that would do the same job, and could be manufactured with existing platforms in the holographic industry.”

A series of microscopic nanostructures — holes 1,500 times thinner than a human hair that can trap or reflect a single wavelength — interact with light to produce the butterfly wing’s shimmering effect. This technique, combined with a variety of dyes, means that Nanotech can imprint unique and virtually impossible-to-reproduce images onto products.  

Among the potential applications for Nanotech’s product are anti-counterfeiting measures for banknotes, brand-name products and identification documents such as passports and driver’s licences.

Nanotech has spent the last four years developing the technology and preparing it for mass production. They’re currently trying to commercialize their design, and Landrock says he expects it to be available by late 2014.