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August 4, 2008

Photonic Beetle (Image 2)

Photonic Beetle (Image 2)

This microscopic image shows the individual scales attached to the exoskeleton of the beetle Lamprocyphus augustus from Brazil. Chemists from the University of Utah discovered that the scales glow iridescent green because the fingernail-like material in the scales, called chitin, has a diamond-like crystal structure that reflects green light. 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. The beetle's scales can't be used in technological devices because the chitin is not stable enough for long-term use, is not semiconducting and doesn't bend light adequately. So, Bartl and Galusha are now trying to design a synthetic version of the beetle's 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: Michael Bartl, University of Utah

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