Biologically Formed Photonic Nanostructures

Helen Townley

Department of Zoology, Tinbergen Building, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, United Kingdom.



Production of complex nanostructures is limited by present day engineering capabilities. Materials science, however, is now recognizing the potential of remarkably complex 3-dimensional structures generated by biological organisms. These optical assemblies have evolved over millions of years to generate intricate nanostructures more complex than anything that could be produced using artificial techniques; providing materials ideal for biotechnological exploitation. In addition, these structures are formed under mild physiological conditions and their growth can be modified through environmental conditions or selective evolution. Furthermore, there is a vast range of natural optical structures; at one end organisms which self-assemble into photonic crystals (such as Iridovirus), through single cells which contain a photonic device (diatoms) to individual cells from multicellular organisms which collectively produce a photonic device (butterflies).