Fleeting: Nanocellulose casted iridescent butterflies

Butterflies have long since fascinated humans, thanks to their pretty, coloured wings. Shira Shoval and Arielle Blonder, textile designer and architect, in collaboration with Dr Tiffany Abitbol, used this insect as an inspiration for their project Fleeting, which explores the properties of nanocellulose. The result is a parametric array of iridescent butterflies that would make any collector jealous.

Nanocellulose is a biopolymer of nanometric size, which enhances the properties of cellulose. Found in materials such as paper and textile, cellulose is the most abundant fibre on earth. It is the main component of the cell wall of plants, providing strength, flexibility and resilience.

From the cellulose, a colourless liquid of varying viscosity, the nanocellulose, can be extracted, which has excellent mechanical, electrical and optical properties. Some types of nanocellulose can be cast, making a thin, film-like membrane. This membrane exhibits birefringence, which is the variable refraction of light depending on light polarisation, resulting in a vibrant iridescent colour. This phenomenon is the underlying principle of iridescence found in surfaces of natural organisms, such as actual butterflies.

In the Fleeting project, this optical effect is explored. In varying ultrasonic energy in the fabrication process, the appearance varies gradually. The surfaces vary from bluish silver to red golden colours, resembling precious minerals rather than paper.

The work is currently on show at the Muza-Eretz Israel Museum Tel Aviv, in the group exhibition “On the Edge- Israeli Paper”, until 31 October 2017.

Fleeting is a collaboration with Prof Oded Shoseyov Laboratory for Nano Biotechnology, The Robert H Smith Institute of Plant Science and Genetics, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Melodea Ltd Israel.

For other projects by Shoval and Blonder, click here.

Photos: Blonder & Shoval


  1. Francesca Riccardo says: