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Mercredi, 21 Décembre 2011 18:30

Diamond Weevil's Rainbow Bling Really Is Diamond

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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.

“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. 21st 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 photonic crystal, much like an opal. Each kind of photonic crystal reflects a specific wavelength of light at a specific orientation. Non-photonic crystals, meanwhile, reflect multiple wavelengths at similar orientations and 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). Follow along in this gallery.

All images: Bodo Wilts/Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Citation: “Hemispherical Brillouin zone imaging of a diamond-type biological photonic crystal.” By Bodo D. Wilts, Kristel Michielsen, Hans De Raedt and Doekele G. Stavenga. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, published online Dec. 21, 2011. DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2011.0730

Diamond Weevil's Rainbow Bling Really Is DiamondDave Mosher is a Wired.com contributor and freelance journalist obsessed with space, physics, biology, technology and more. He lives in New York City. G+
Follow @davemosher and @wiredscience on Twitter.

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