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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
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Beetle scales could speed up computers

By Michael McFall

A bug in your computer could make it faster, according to a study by U researchers.

A team of scientists, including chemistry and physics professor Michael Bartl and chemistry student Jeremy Galusha, has discovered that the scales of a Brazilian beetle have a crystal structure that could allow computers to use light to transmit information. Computers today use both electricity and light to do this, which is a slower process.

The beetle’s actual scale is made of chitin, which is not a material that can work inside computers, so scientists must construct a material that will function the same as the beetle’s scale. If researchers can create computer chips that control light like the beetle’s scale, a new generation of faster computers could be manufactured.

“What we’re trying to do now is combine the two worlds: the biological structure that nature provided with that semiconductor technology to make the same structure (for computers),” Bartl said.

The beetle scales are iridescent, meaning they turn different colors from any angle-a property that drew the attention of Springville High School junior Lauren Richey when she was looking into the rainbow property as part of her science fair project two years ago. Galusha, who was at the fair, learned of Richey’s project and helped bring her research to a whole new level with college support.

Richey is now part of the Brigham Young University team working with the U to determine how this rare property can create the next generation of computers.

“This opens up the door to use these scales as inspiration to come up with (construction) strategies or use it as a template,” Galusha said.

There might be other insects that can provide more answers as to how their biological shell structure can be reconstructed into faster computer parts, Richey said.

However, even if such a computer chip is invented, it will be a long time before faster computers reach the public, Galusha said. It will take thousands of dollars to produce the beetle-inspired computer chips, and it will take time to figure out how to mass-produce them at an affordable level, he said.

Lennie Mahler

Michael Bartl and Jeremy Galusha display the photonic beetle that will help enable a new faster form of computing, which will use light instead of electricity.

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