Beetle Biomimicry: A New MacBook Coating?


One of the many exciting areas of biomimicry is materials science. Plants and animals have evolved materials that astound us with their complex engineering on the molecular level. Take for instance the Cyphochilus beetle. Dr. Pete Vukusic, of the University of Exeter’s School of Physics, has figured out how the beetle engineers a super-thin bright white exoskeleton-without using dyes.

‘This kind of brilliant whiteness from such a thin sample is rare in nature. As soon as I saw it, every instinct told me that the beetle was something very special,’ said Dr. Pete Vukusic. ‘In the future, the paper we write on, the colour of our teeth and even the efficiency of the rapidly emerging new generation of white light sources will be significantly improved if technology can take and apply the design ideas we learn from this beetle.’
Instead of dyes, the beetle's body is covered with long flat scales only 5 micrometers thick. The scales are unique in that they are composed of highly randomized 3D structures. But that's not all- the 3D structures are sized and spaced precisely in order to maximize the scattering of light- thus creating white light. It is this kind of precision and specificity that begins to amaze me, and when we start talking about the maximization, or optimization of systems, I can't help but think the constructal law may be at play in the organization of the 3D molecular structure. It is assumed that the beetle makes itself this bright white to blend in with its habitat- a bright white fungi (I don't know if anyone knows how the fungi is white). Presumably the beetle doesn't 'want' to have a thick heavy coating of energetically expensive pigment, so instead it has evolved an elegant solution for creating a white material- engineered on the molecular level.

This is not the first beetle to amaze engineers, and it will not be the last. Looking to nature for answers has a certain appeal, connecting us to the rest of the world- even if it is just a search for a better, brighter MacBook (although this research does have farther reaching applications- I just thought Apple might want to take a look into it.) ::Science ::Pete Vukusic :: University of Exeter News :: Biomimicry Guild

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