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Photonic Beetle

June 24, 2008

A Brazilian beetle provides a model for optical computer components.


An insect that could improve computers. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If computer chips ran on light instead of electricity, they would run much faster. But first, you would need a three-dimensional crystal that can manipulate light in useful ways. Now, scientists at the University of Utah have found a model: the scales of a green Brazilian beetle. Physical chemist Michael Bartl says the beetle caught their attention because its scales reflect green light from every angle.

MICHAEL BARTL (University of Utah):
And the other reason was that when we did the first optical measurements, we discovered a really broad reflection band, also something that you would not expect for simple structures.

These clues pointed to a highly organized underlying structure, which Bartl says can guide engineers making artificial computing crystals. Remarkably, the research started as a high school science project by student Lauren Richey, who co-authored the paper. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.