SALT LAKE CITY Researchers have been unable to build an ideal photonic crystal to manipulate visible light, impeding the dream of ultrafast optical computers. But now, University of Utah chemists have discovered that nature already has designed photonic crystals with the ideal, diamond-like structure: They are found in the shimmering, iridescent green scales of a beetle from Brazil.
It appears that a simple creature like a beetle provides us with one of the technologically most sought-after structures for the next generation of computing, says study leader Michael Bartl, an assistant professor of chemistry and adjunct assistant professor of physics at the University of Utah. Nature has simple ways of making structures and materials that are still unobtainable with our million-dollar instruments and engineering strategies.
The study by Bartl, University of Utah chemistry doctoral student Jeremy Galusha and colleagues is set to be published later this week in the journal Physical Review E.
The beetle is an inch-long weevil named Lamprocyphus augustus. The discovery of its scales crystal structure represents the first time scientists have been able to work with a material with the ideal or champion architecture for a photonic crystal.
Nature uses very simple strategies to design structures to manipulate light structures that are beyond the reach of our current abilities, Galusha says.
Bartl and Galusha now are trying to design a synthetic version of the beetles photonic crystals, using scale material as a mold to make the crystals from a transparent semiconductor.
The scales cant be used in technological devices because they are made of fingernail-like chitin, which is not stable enough for long-term use, is not semiconducting and doesnt bend light adequately.
The University of Utah chemists conducted the study with coauthors Lauren Richey, a former Springville High School student now at
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University of Utah