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August 4, 2008

Photonic Beetle (Image 1)

Photonic Beetle (Image 1)

Chemists from the University of Utah have discovered that the iridescent green glow of this inch-long Lamprocyphus augustus beetle from Brazil is due to a crystal structure in its scales that is like the crystal structure of diamonds. Such a structure is considered an ideal architecture for the "photonic crystals" that will be needed to manipulate visible light in ultrafast optical computers of the future.

The study was led by Michael Bartl, assistant professor of chemistry and adjunct assistant professor of physics at the University of Utah, University of Utah chemistry doctoral student Jeremy Galusha and colleagues. Because the beetles scales are made of fingernail-like chitin, they are not stable enough for long-term use. Chitin is not semiconducting either, nor does it bend light adequately, so Bartl and Galusha are now 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.

Researchers are seeking photonic crystals as they aim to develop optical computers that run on light (photons) instead of electricity (electrons). Right now, light in near-infrared and visible wavelengths can carry data and communications through fiberoptic cables, but the data must be converted from light back to electricity before being processed in a computer. The goal--an ultrahigh-speed computer with optical integrated circuits or chips that run on light instead of electricity--is still years away.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation (via a Nanoscale Exploratory Research (NER) grant, NER 06-09244), the American Chemical Society, the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. The research findings were published in Physical Review E (PRE) (see PDF file, Here.

To read more about this research, see "The Photonic Beetle," on EurekAlert! (Date of Image: Summer/Fall 2007) [See Related Image.]

Credit: Jeremy Galusha, Department of Chemistry, University of Utah

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