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Meet a future jewel of technology: gem of a beetle which thinks it's an opal
Sydney Morning Herald ^ | December 18, 2003 | By Deborah Smith, Science Reporter

Posted on 12/21/2003 11:41:30 AM PST by miltonim

This Australian beetle really is a gem: the greenish scales on its back are identical to opal.

Andrew Parker, a former researcher at the Australian Museum, was amazed when he examined the internal structure of the scales under a powerful microscope and realised it was the same as that of the precious stone.

"This is the first time opal has been found in animals," said Dr Parker, who is now at Oxford University in Britain.

The find could lead to a new method for synthesising opals, not only for use in jewellery, but as components, known as photonic crystals, for the computers of the future, which will rely on the movement of light.

The beetle, Pachyrhynchus argus, is commonly found in the rainforests of north-eastern Queensland. Its particular pattern of patches of metallic gleam had probably evolved to make it recognisable to other members of its species in the dim light under the forest canopy, Dr Parker said. "The optical effect created by this weevil makes it appear strongly coloured, whatever angle you look at it."

The discovery is published today in the journal Nature.

The colour of most opals, and the beetle's scales, is the result of light being reflected from layers of transparent spheres, packed in a precise hexagonal pattern.

The beetle reflects only one colour because all of its nano-spheres are exactly the same size - about 250 nanometres across (a nanometre is a billionth of a metre) - whereas multi-coloured opals have a range of different sized nano-spheres.

Dr Parker said that although liquid opals were easy to make, synthesising solid ones was notoriously difficult. His team has begun to try to fathom how the beetle creates an opal-like structure using the chemical "factories" inside its cells.

"If we can emulate the weevil's means of opal production this would represent a technological breakthrough, particularly since opal, as a photonic crystal, has numerous industrial applications," he said.

Scientists have already had some success copying nature, recently creating artificial mother of pearl by mimicking the way abalones build up nanolayers of different materials to make their shells.

But the beetle's method for making perfect opals posed a bigger challenge than this, because it probably used clever pieces of tiny machinery, such as molecular motors, and templates to extrude the nano-spheres, Dr Parker said.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: beetle; crevolist
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To: jennyp
Being an amorphous collection of hydrated silicon globules, I'm not sure what's necessarily so miraculous about a beetle extruding it on its shell.

I don't think it's necessarily miraculous, but having studied, cut and set precious opals for many years I can tell you that seeing this structure in a biological organism is very interesting. The play of color in precious opal is caused by light being diffracted (not refracted) through open spaces between the spheres. The size(s) of the spheres and how they happen to be stacked determine the number of spectral colors visible to the eye. The vast majority of all opal is non-precious, featuring spheres and stacking arrangements that don't result in light diffraction.

As the article states, it's fairly simple to synthesize "liquid" opals via a silica gel. But eliminating residual water to form a stable solid is incredibly difficult. Only natural precious opals from a very few areas in the world (Australia being one) have managed this feat and no one quite understands how it happens. One opal simulant now being marketed has a silica sphere structure that's been in-filled with plastic. The play of color is beautiful but it's not synthetic opal because it contains plastic instead of water.

Learning how a biological organism creates silica spheres of the exact size needed to diffract appropriate colors will be fascinating. But if oysters can create nacre to form pearls from irritating sand pebbles and various butterflies and other creatures like hummingbirds can put light diffraction to use in other ways, it's probably not miraculous.

21 posted on 12/21/2003 8:03:58 PM PST by Bernard Marx ("Do what you are afraid to do." Anonymous.)
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To: liberty or death
check out for some fact filled literature that removes evolution as a possibility.

*snicker*. If you say so.

Maybe somewhere in there they've got some "facts" that somehow "remove evolution as a possibility", but what I've found there so far is just a lot of laughable falsehoods.

Let's start with:

What fool would think that his ancestors were monkeys? I remember seeing a cartoon in a magazine or newspaper once of two monkeys in a tree looking down at two queer fags boogering each other. One monkey looked over to the other one and said, "Even we will not do that." So where does this put the queer in the evolutionary chain? What he does is degenerative, not normal, and perverse! God's creation was not Adam and Steve, but Adam and Eve. Monkeys will not do things that are unnatural!
Okay, what a rant about "queer fags" has to do with "removing evolution as a possibility" is beyond me, but that's what he lists under the heading "EVOLUTION: THE TRUTH?", so let's see if he knows what he's talking about, shall we? He says that "monkeys" will not engage in same-sex sexual activity. Sorry, that's not a "fact", the actual "fact" is that primates do indeed engage in same-sex sexual activity.

See for example Bonobo Sex and Society, or On the Evolution and Cross-Cultural Variation in Male Homosexuality, or just about any field study of primate behavior in the wild. It's quite well known that primates and many other animals engage in same-sex sexual behavior -- it's a clear indication of the author's ignorance that he doesn't know this (not that that stops him from spouting off anyway). He seems to be doing the common creationist fallacy of "confusing what he *wants* to believe with the actual truth".

Strike one.

Your website also says:

The strength of the earth's magnetic field has been measured for well over a century. This provides scientists with exceptionally good records. In an important recent study, Dr. Thomas G. Barnew [sic : actually it's "Barnes" -- Ich.] has shown that the strength of the earth's magnetic field is decaying exponentially at a rate corresponding to a half-life of 1,400 years. That is to say, 1,400 years ago the magnetic field of the earth was twice as strong as it is now. If we extrapolate back as far as 10,000 years, we find that the earth would have had a magnetic field as strong as that of a magnetic star! This is, of course, highly improbable, if not impossible.
AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, it is indeed "highly improbably, if not impossible" -- and the reason is that Barnes' hypothesis is trash. It completely ignores everything that is actually known about the Earth's geomagnetism, and uses an inappropriate gradeschool-level "curve fit" to get the (wrong) answer that Barnes wanted. Not only is the Earth's magnetic field not "decaying exponentially", it actually fluctuates up *and* down. Actual measurements show that 6500 years ago the Earth's magnetic field was actually 20% *less* than it is now (see: McElhinny, M. W., and W. E. Senanayake. 1982. "Variations in the Geomagnetic Dipole I: The Past 50,000 Years" Journal of Geomagnetism and Geoelectricity 34: 39-51).

For a few websites which devastatingly demonstrate that Barnes' model is not only wrong, but probably willfully dishonest, see On Creation Science and the Alleged Decay of the Earth's Magnetic Field, or Young-earth "proof" #11, or Claim CD701: Earth's magnetic field is decaying at a rate indicating that the earth must be young.

Oh, and how honest is it to call Barnes' work "an important recent study" when it was published in *1973*?

Strike two.

More from your link:

It is important to realize that nowhere in the world does the geological column actually occur. It exists only in the minds of the evolutionary geologists. It is simply an idea, an idea of geological systems, and not an actual column of rocks that can be observed at a particular locality. Even the Grand Canyon includes less than half of this man-made column. Yes, you have been lied to. Some of you are Christians and you too actually believed the lie. Shame on you for not believing God created everything in seven days.
ROFL! Where did this guy get his geology education, from a Cracker Jack box? The full geologic column can indeed be found in dozens of basins around the world:

For a detailed overview of a particular example of the full geologic column, see The Geologic Column and its Implications for the Flood , by former creationist Glenn Morton. I say "former creationist" because after graduating from a popular creationist "college", Morton soon began to realize that much of what he had been taught about science by the creationists was a lie. See Why I left Young-earth Creationism, by Glenn R. Morton. Excerpt:

But eventually, by 1994 I was through with young-earth creationISM. Nothing that young-earth creationists had taught me about geology turned out to be true. I took a poll of my ICR graduate friends who have worked in the oil industry. I asked them one question.

"From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in the long run to be true?"

That is a very simple question. One man, Steve Robertson, who worked for Shell grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said 'No!' A very close friend that I had hired at Arco, after hearing the question, exclaimed, "Wait a minute. There has to be one!" But he could not name one. I can not name one. No one else could either. One man I could not reach, to ask that question, had a crisis of faith about two years after coming into the oil industry. I do not know what his spiritual state is now but he was in bad shape the last time I talked to him.

Strike three, your website's out.

Um, where's that "fact-filled literature" again?

But lest you complain that I picked on the "few" boneheaded mistakes on that site and avoided the "real facts", do feel free to choose up to three of the points you feel to be the *strongest*, most "true" arguments there that you believe "removes evolution as a possibility". Then I shall address those and show you how good the "strongest" arguments on that site against evolution actually are.

22 posted on 12/21/2003 9:53:30 PM PST by Ichneumon
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To: PatrickHenry
Way cool! :-)
23 posted on 12/21/2003 11:05:29 PM PST by RadioAstronomer
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To: PatrickHenry
Photonic Crystal Placemarker
24 posted on 12/21/2003 11:35:15 PM PST by BMCDA
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To: PatrickHenry
Thanks for the ping!
25 posted on 12/22/2003 12:04:15 AM PST by Alamo-Girl
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To: Consort
26 posted on 12/22/2003 6:55:17 AM PST by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: Bernard Marx; sauropod
but having studied, cut and set precious opals for many years

Hey 'Pod, maybe you can get some tips from this guy. My jewelry box is getting impatient. ;D

27 posted on 12/22/2003 7:01:55 AM PST by hellinahandcart
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To: Ichneumon
Nice summary!
28 posted on 12/22/2003 7:02:49 AM PST by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: Ichneumon
[Thunderous applause!]
29 posted on 12/22/2003 7:33:42 AM PST by PatrickHenry (Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas.)
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To: Ichneumon
Well, it looks like you killed yet another nice debate with facts.

When will you learn? ;^)
30 posted on 12/23/2003 7:35:10 AM PST by Dementon (I hear the voices in my head, I swear to God it sounds like they're snoring...)
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To: Ichneumon
Those who put their faith in fools,
By fools will see their faith betrayed.

You're batting a thousand.
31 posted on 12/23/2003 7:42:16 AM PST by js1138
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To: ChemistCat
Ping to you as a scientist! Merry Christmas!
32 posted on 12/23/2003 7:44:13 AM PST by livius
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