A biological sub-micron thickness optical broadband reflector characterized using both light and microwaves

J R Soc Interface. 2009 Apr 6;6 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S193-201. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2008.0345.focus. Epub 2008 Nov 28.


Broadband optical reflectors generally function through coherent scattering from systems comprising one of three designs: overlapped; chirped; or chaotic multilayer reflectors. For each, the requirement to scatter a broad band of wavelengths is met through the presence of a variation in nanostructural periodicity running perpendicular to the systems' outer surfaces. Consequently, the requisite total thickness of the multilayer can often be in excess of 50 mum. Here, we report the discovery and the microwave-assisted characterization of a natural system that achieves excellent optical broadband reflectivity but that is less than 1 mum thick. This system, found on the wing scales of the butterfly Argyrophorus argenteus, comprises a distinctive variation in periodicity that runs parallel to the reflecting surface, rather than perpendicular to it. In this way, the requirement for an extensively thick system is removed.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies / physiology*
  • Light*
  • Microwaves*
  • Pigments, Biological
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*


  • Pigments, Biological