Phototonic crystals from a beetles scales

Brazilian Beetles Hold Key to Faster Computers

For decades, scientists have dreamed of computer chips that manipulate light rather than electricity. Unlike electrons, photons can cross paths without interfering with each other, so optical chips could compute in three dimensions rather than two, crunching data in seconds that now takes weeks to process.

For now, though, optical computing remains a dream. The chips require crystals that channel photons as nimbly as silicon channels electrons -- and though engineers have been able to imagine the ideal photonic crystal, they've been unable to build it.

Enter a beetle known as Lamprocyphus augustus. In a study published this week in Physical Review E, researchers at the University of Utah describe how the inch-long Brazilian beetle's iridescent green scales are composed of chitin arranged by evolution in precisely the molecular configuration that has confounded the would-be fabricators of optical computers.

By using the scales as a semiconductor mold, researchers hope to finally build the perfect photonic crystal.

Source: wired.comAdded: 6 June 2008