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Beetle bling: Researchers discover optical secrets of 'metallic' beetles
Date:4/25/2011

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To interpret the cause of this metallic look, Vargas and his team assumed that a sequence of layers of chitin appears through the cuticle, with successive layers having slightly different refractive indices.. In these beetles, the cuticle, which is just 10 millionths of a meter deep, has some 70 separate layers of chitina nitrogen-containing complex sugar that creates the hard outer skeletons of insects, crabs, shrimps, and lobsters. The chitin layers become progressively thinner with depth, forming a so-called "chirped" structure.

"Because the layers have different refractive indices," Vargas says, "light propagates through them at different speeds. The light is refracted throughand reflected byeach interface giving, in particular, phase differences in the emerging reflected rays. For several wavelengths in the visible range, there are many reflected rays whose phase differences allow for constructive interference. This leads to the metallic appearance of the beetles."

This is similar to the way in which a prism breaks white light into the colors of the rainbow by refraction, but in the case of these beetles, different wavelengths, or colors of light are reflected back more strongly by different layers of chitin. This creates the initial palette of colors that enable the beetles to produce their distinctive hues. The mystery the researchers still needed to understand in more detail, however, was how the beetles could so perfectly create the structure causing the brilliant metallic tones of silver and gold.

Using a device they specially designed to measure the reflection of light when it strikes the curved surface of the beetles' elytra, Vargas and his colleagues found that as light strikes the interface between each successive layer (the first interface being the boundary between the outside air and the top chitin layer), some of its energy is reflected and some is transmitted down to the next interface.

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Contact: Angela Stark
astark@osa.org
202-416-1443
Optical Society of America
Source:Eurekalert  

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