Study: Butterflies evolved their own LEDs

Nov. 19, 2005 at 7:59 PM
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LONDON, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- A University of Illinois researcher invented the light-emitting diode in 1962, but butterflies beat Nick Holonyak by 30 million years, British scientists say.

The University of Exeter researchers said they have proven that African swallowtail butterflies belonging to the Princeps nireus species evolved an identical method to signal each other in the wild.

"Unlike the diodes, the butterfly's system clearly doesn't have semiconductor in it and it doesn't produce its own radiative energy," researcher Peter Vukusic told the BBC News Web site. "That makes it doubly efficient in a way.

"But the way light is extracted from the butterfly's system is more than an analogy -- it's all but identical in design to the LED," he said.

"When you study these things and get a feel for the photonic architecture available, you really start to appreciate the elegance with which nature put some of these things together," Vukusic said.

He and Ian Hooper reported their finding in the journal Science.

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