Thursday, May 22, 2008

"I Have Something You Can't Have, Ha Ha!"


All right, so these Brazilian beetles probably aren't flaunting their diamond based photonic crystals around intentionally, but watching the weevil L. augustus' iridescent green scales shimmer in the light would make any researcher envious.

Especially when diamond structured photonic crystals are needed to create super fast optical computers, and creating the crystals synthetically hasn't worked (despite millions of dollars, complex instrumentation and numerous calculations).

Optical computers use photons in visible light and infrared beams to communicate data and perform digital computations much faster than today's computers, which run on electrons. Right now, electrons travel around on transistor switches on metal wires, storing and processing data, at about 10% the speed of light. Data carried through optical fibers has to be converted from light back to electricity before that information can be accessed on a computer. Optical computers of the future will consist of photons whizzing around on optical fibers or thin films, performing the same functions as a regular computer, but much faster.

But an ultra high speed computing system running on pure light is still a long way off. Researchers are currently trying to make photonic crystals from a transparent semiconductor, using crystals found in L. Augustus' as a model. Unfortunately, researchers can't just stick the beetle's scales into your desktop- they are made of out material similar to your fingernails, which doesn't bend light well enough to be used in computers, and wouldn’t last long anyway. Photonic crystals, whenever they are successfully designed, would control the movement of photons in future computers by guiding and bending light in extremely small spaces. In the meantime, we can all ponder over nature's effortless ability to create things that we can't.

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