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Nanoscale Light Reflectors Inspired By Fish


A new method designed to improve the reflection of light has been inspired by a rarely seen ocean dweller.

Researchers have been studying the reflective layering in the skin of ribbonfish, which are capable of reflecting light across a broad range of wavelengths. This effect gives them a silvery, metallic appearance. Ribbonfish are found in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Bay of Bengal, at Mauritius, and in the Pacific.

The reflecting effect is due to a special arrangement of crystals layered on the surface of the fish. Key to the phenomenon is the configuration of the layering and the precise pattern. Researchers think that by studying this they can improve the way light is reflected, and do so in a way that conserves energy.

In terms of physics, the structure of the crystals on the fish follows a type of Cantor fractal. What is special is the way the structure has evolved, with the nature of the pattern and the gaps between the crystals being critical to the super-reflective nature.

In order to reproduce the effect using artificial objects, the research group believe they have cracked the special genetic algorithm.

It is hoped that the new technology will be useful for improving optical coatings on glass, laser protection, infra-red imaging systems, optical communication systems and photovoltaic, among other interesting applications.

The research was conducted at Penn State University and the findings are published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The paper is titled “Evolving random fractal Cantor superlattices for the infrared using a genetic algorithm.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.

  • Victor Grayson

    I can see how this technology could improve lights and electronics.