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Beetle Shell May Be Clue to Whiter, Lighter Paper

The brilliant white shell of an obscure beetle (Cyphochilus) has provided scientists with insights as to how to produce a brighter coating for white paper. The novel coating would also be thinner and lighter than current coatings and this would translate into reduced transportation costs, while simultaneously reducing the economic and environmental costs of manufacture. Cyphochilus is native to south-east Asia, and it is believed that its whiteness evolved to mimic local white fungi as a form of camouflage. In 2007, research conducted at the University of Exeter and Imerys Minerals Ltd., and published in Science, revealed how the beetle produces its brilliant whiteness using a unique surface structure of long, flat, ultrathin scales with highly random internal 3-D structures--ideal for creating whiteness, which results from the scattering of all colors simultaneously. In the new work, members of the same research team showed how some of the beetle’s shell structure can be mimicked to produce thinner, whiter coatings for white paper. "It is interesting to consider that clues found in a small, obscure beetle could find application in large-scale industry,” one of the researchers noted. “Taking this concept forward is an interesting challenge, but we have good ideas about our next steps and, if successful, feel that such developments might have profound implications for future commercial white coatings.” The current research was published in the June 10 issue of Applied Optics. [Press release] [Applied Optics abstract]