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Ultra-White Beetles

March 1, 2007

Beetles could give engineers insights into making things brilliant white.


A beetle’s whiter shade of pale. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

One of nature’s whitest creatures is a small Southeast Asian beetle. Optical physicist Pete Vukusic of the University of Exeter in England is learning how the beetle’s thatched scales create such a pure white effect. He notes that each scale is only one two-hundredth of a millimeter thick, or about 50 to 100 times thinner than paper.

PETE VUKUSIC (University of Exeter, England):
Generally speaking, such brilliant whiteness can only be produced from a thick layer, such as a few feet of snow or a few millimeters of enamel on teeth.

In a new report, he describes how the filaments within the scales scatter light so well. If that can be re-created commercially, it could be useful in a number of applications, from paint and dental implants to new flat light panels, which will need very thin reflective backings to scatter their light across a room.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.