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They Don’t Make ‘Em Like That Anymore

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An inordinate fondness for beetles: this is what the great British geneticist and evolutionary biologist, JBS Haldane, an atheist, reportedly answered to theologians who asked him what could be concluded about the "Creator" from the study of his creation. Indeed, there are beetle species (Coleoptera) than any other type of insect, and more species of insects than any other group of animals in the world. Not only there are many types of beetles, but they also include some truly extraordinary creatures. One of them is the diamond weevil. Its hard wings are covered by pits that contain hundreds of teardrop-shaped, sparkling, rainbow scales. The function of the iridescent scales is not know; one hypothesis is that they can be used in communication, for example to attract mates. A new study has now elucidated the nature of the scales and how they reflect light. The scales are a type of 3-D photonic crystal, reflecting a specific light wavelength according to the orientation. They are actually diamonds, in the sense that they are crystals made of chitin (a biological polymer found in arthropods), and their structure is the same as actual carbon diamonds. The structure is called "diamond cubic." Each scale is divided into sections of iridescent colors; as the angle of the light hitting the sections changes, so does the color reflected off the scales. A scanning electron microscope was used to further probe their structure. The scale contains a 5 microns thick-like waffle-like layer, that looks like little hexagons in juxtaposition. The tiny scales reflect blue-green light from the square parts of the crystal and orange-yellow light from the hexagonal sections. This is not only fascinating from a biological point of view, but engineers can potentially copy nature and create new solar cells, electronic screens or even paints based on this structure. 

Diamond Weevil’s Rainbow Bling Really Is Diamond

Brazilian diamond weevil

Like a gem-studded overcoat, the diamond weevil’s jet-black wings are covered by pits filled with sparkling, rainbow-colored scales. Researchers have studied these “diamonds” since the weevil’s discovery in the early 19th century but, until recently, no one knew know how the scales reflected so much light. A new high-tech investigation reveals the diamonds are just that: crystals of chitin in a diamond-type arrangement optimized to throw off brilliant greens, yellows and oranges. What most people call diamonds are made of carbon, but other materials can take on the same crystal structure, called "diamond cubic." “Materials scientists could look to these scales to inspire new materials, but we don’t yet know how they are made,” said biophysicist Bodo Wilts of the University of Groningen, co-author of a Dec. 21 study of the scales in Journal of the Royal Society Interface“We’ve got some catching up to do,” Wilts said. “The nature-produced tiny structures are far beyond any human designs.” The scales are a type of three-dimensional crystal, called a photonic crystal, which is much like an opal. Each kind of photonic crystal reflects a specific wavelength of light at a specific orientation. Other crystals lacking a regular 3-D structure, meanwhile, aren’t as brilliant or iridescent. Wilts’ team used a battery of tools to investigate the photonic studs the inch-long weevil, the Brazilian species of which is known as Entimus imperialis (pictured above)

Go to this site for a gorgeous gallery of micrographs and electron micrographs of the scales and the crystals, and a detailed explanation of how they function.

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Pretty Awesome!


photo

Diamond Weevil

elytron of Diamond Weevil (Entimus imperialis) Serra do Mar, SE Brazil. March 2008

Not sure why, but I can't see the photo you just posted. It may be my browser.

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