The wires are buzzing about an obscure species of beetle, whose dazzling white coat may lend itself to a variety of industrial and biological applications. While whiteness in nature is hardly unique, it usually requires a lot of thickness to scatter light — but this tiny coating is whiter than a tooth:
The researchers found the beetle’s shell was covered with ultra-thin scales, measuring just five micrometres (millionths of a metre), with highly random internal 3D structures.
This irregular structure, explained Dr Vukusic, was the cause of the beetle’s whiteness.
While colour, he explained, could be created through highly ordered structures, whiteness is achieved through very random features that scatter all colours simultaneously.
“The degree of whiteness given the scales’ thinness is the really impressive thing,” Dr Vukusic added.
“We can create this quality of white synthetically, but the materials need to be much thicker. This could have many applications.”
The researchers believe industry might draw inspiration from the beetle to enhance the whiteness of synthetic objects, such as papers, plastics, paints or white-light displays.
We wonder if someday, whitening toothpaste may contain ground beetle shell extract.
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