Physicists have added algae to the list of plants and animals that rely on photonic crystals to manipulate light.
Photonic crystals are microscopic patterns of material that can reflect or guide light without relying on pigments and other materials we normally associate with colorful surfaces.
Models of the optical properties of holococcolithophore algae, which wear plates made of patterned calcium carbonate, showed that the algae are particularly good at scattering ultraviolet (UV) light.
The team of Mexican and Spanish physicists who analyzed the structures speculate that the patterning may serve as a kind of sunscreen, allowing the algae to live high in the water column without the threat of damage from UV rays, while giving them improved access to the light wavelengths that drive photosynthesis.
The photonic plates join peacock feathers, beetle carapaces, and butterfly wings in the growing catalog of naturally occurring structures that control light using photonic crystals.
Citation: R. Quintero-Torres et al. Physical Review E (forthcoming article)
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