PerspectiveMaterials Science

Evolutionary Photonics with a Twist

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Science  24 Jul 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5939, pp. 398-399
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177729

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The visual appearance of many animals is determined not by pigments but by structural processes that allow the animals to manipulate electromagnetic radiation—mostly visible light and color—in courtship, to find prey, or to escape predators. Studies of fish scales (1), insect coatings (2), and bird feathers (3) have revealed a wealth of complex biological structural designs and optical effects that mirror many technological photonic system designs. These photonic technologies are beginning to draw inspiration from the natural world for new generations of devices and products (4). On page 449 of this issue, Sharma et al. (5) add knowledge to this area by elucidating the processes through which the scarab beetle, Plusiotis gloriosa, reflects structural color from its external surfaces (elytra) in the form of left-handed circularly polarized light.