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Beetle shell inspires new way to make brilliant white paper

Washington, June 11 (ANI): A team of researchers from Imerys Minerals Ltd. and the University of Exeter have derived some inspiration from an obscure species of beetle to develop a completely new way to make brilliant white paper.

The researchers have revealed that their took inspiration from the shell of the Cyphochilus beetle to understand how to produce a new kind of white coating for paper.

A 2007 study from the University of Exeter and Imerys Minerals Ltd. had already shown that the beetle produces its brilliant whiteness using a unique surface structure.

Publishing the new research in the journal Applied Optics, the researchers have now shown how some of the beetle’s shell structures can be mimicked to produce coatings for white paper.

They say that careful mineral selection and processing can make it possible to mimic some of the structures of the white beetle’s shell to produce an enhanced bright white coating for paper.

According to them, this higher performance may lead to lighter weight paper with a very high degree of whiteness, which can help reduce transportation costs as well as the economic and environmental cost of manufacture.
The researchers say that the key to producing the optimal white coating for paper is in the design of the constituent mineral particles.

“White paper coatings must provide the right balance between the size, number density and separation of the scattering units in the coating – as found in the beetle’s scales”, said Dr Benny Hallam, Application Support Manager of Imerys Pigments for Paper Europe Technology Group.

The company is planning to assess the feasibility of producing beetle-inspired ultra-white coatings on a large scale.

Pete Vukusic, a professor at the University of Exeter, is investigating the massive diversity in the way in which whiteness is produced across the animal and plant world, far beyond just that of the Cyphochilus beetle.

Thus far, the researchers have identified and investigated a series of natural systems that reveal distinctly different ways of producing effective ultra-whiteness. These are inspiring additional surface appearance and functional applications in a range of technologies and industries.

Benny Hallam, of Imerys Minerals Ltd., said: “It is interesting to consider that clues found in a small, obscure beetle could find application in large-scale industry. 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.”

Professor Pete Vukusic of the University of Exeter said: “Natural systems are packed with inspirational designs that have evolved to serve key biological functions. Developing scientific knowledge about where to look and then how to take technological or industrial insight from them is an increasingly important practise, especially in this current financial climate. On this occasion, the Cyphochilus beetle has bridged the distance between university research and industrial application. There are a great many other natural systems awaiting discovery or detailed study that will certainly do the same.” (ANI)

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