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Butterfly Effect

Sophisticated method of manipulating light is discovered in Princeps nireus

2 min read
photo of butterfly in front of man's face
Image: Peter Vukusic/University of Exeter

In 2001, Alexei Erchak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, unveiled a groundbreaking light-emitting diode that suffered none of the light losses that can plague ordinary LEDs. Erchak’s device was modified with a special reflective layer and an optical structure, known as a photonic crystal, that together captured light that would otherwise have been lost and channeled it into a useful beam. The design funneled six times as much light into its beam as an unmodified one, an improvement that astounded LED researchers at the time.

Now a UK team says the structure that makes Erchak’s LEDs so special is not unique after all. Look hard enough and you can find it in the fluorescent wings of male African swallowtail butterflies of the Princeps nireus species. What is more, the structure of these wings is subtly different from the MIT design in a way that may offer clues for improving LEDs further.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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