Seeing the Unseen: How Butterflies Can Help Scientists Detect Cancer


There are many creatures on our planet with more advanced senses than humans. 

There are many creatures on our planet with more advanced senses than humans. Turtles can sense Earth’s magnetic field. Mantis shrimp can detect polarized light. Elephants can hear much lower frequencies than humans can. Butterflies can perceive a broader range of colors, including ultraviolet (UV) light.

Inspired by the enhanced visual system of the Papilio xuthus butterfly, a team of researchers have developed an imaging sensor capable of “seeing” into the UV range inaccessible to human eyes. The design of the sensor uses stacked photodiodes and perovskite nanocrystals (PNCs) capable of imaging different wavelengths in the UV range. Using the spectral signatures of biomedical markers, such as amino acids, this new imaging technology is even capable of differentiating between cancer cells and normal cells with 99% confidence.

This new research, led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign electrical and computer engineering professor Viktor Gruev and bioengineering professor Shuming Nie, was recently published in the journal Science Advances. Both Gruev and Nie are affiliates of the Cancer Center at Illinois.

Read more at University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering

Image: From left to right: Prof. Shuming Nie, Cheng Chen (grad student), Prof. Viktor Gruev, Zhongmin Zhu (grad student)