Optics & Photonics

Scientists have discovered the chemical that is responsible for the dazzling white colour of Pacific cleaner shrimp.

The molecule that gives the Pacific cleaner shrimp its distinctive white stripes has been identified by an international group of molecular chemists, physicists, and nanomolecular scientists. Nature Photonics is where the study was published. In the same issue of the journal, Diederik Wiersma from the European Laboratory for Non-Linear Spectroscopy has written a News & Views article outlining the team’s work and explaining why it is so important to the creation of photonic materials.

The thin, white coatings on photonic materials used in solar cells, sensors, and optical displays aid in light propagation. Nanoparticles of toxic zinc oxide and titanium dioxide make up the majority of these materials. As a result, researchers have been searching for an organic source. With that in mind, they have been taking a gander at creatures that have normal white coatings made of slim material. In this new exercise, the group zeroed in on studying the radiant white stripes on Pacific cleaner shrimp.

The team took samples and used microscopy to look at them to get a better understanding of the stripes. They then made simulations of how the stripes react to light using optical measurements. Due to a thin white coating, they discovered that the stripes are white. Additionally, they discovered that the coating was composed of extremely thin layers of tightly packed nanospheres. The researchers observed how the angles created by the nanospheres caused light to scatter as it entered the system.

They discovered that the stripes were able to reflect up to 80% of the light that hit them because of this optical crowding. The isoxanthopterin molecules that looked like spokes made up the nanospheres, the researchers found. These particles, they found, were considered productive dispersing even as the nanospheres were thickly pressed.

The study sheds light on the significance of optical anisotropy in light scattering. The researchers also suggest that this could assist in the creation of white coatings for optical applications that are less hazardous.

More information: Tali Lemcoff et al, Brilliant whiteness in shrimp from ultra-thin layers of birefringent nanospheres, Nature Photonics (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41566-023-01182-4

Diederik S. Wiersma, A shrimp solves a scattering problem, Nature Photonics (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41566-023-01183-3

How this shrimp gets its brilliant white stripe, Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/d41586-023-01415-0

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