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Beetle holds key to lighter, brighter paper: scientists to mimic light-scattering qualities of Asian insect's body scales for more efficient 'whiteness' production.

SCIENTISTS at the University of Exeter are using the shell of an obscure beetle to devise new methods of producing white paper.

The Cyphochilus has a brilliant white shell. Native to Southeast Asia, it is believed that the beetle's whiteness evolved to mimic local fungi as a form of camouflage.

Researchers at Exeter and materials firm Imerys Minerals have shown that the beetle's shell structure can be mimicked to produce coatings for white paper.

Studies of the beetle's body, head and legs have revealed long, flat scales, one 200th of a millimetre thick, which have random internal structures.

By balancing the size of the structures with the spacing between them, these internal forms scatter light more effectively than industrial methods.

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Good quality white paper is coated with a mixture of white mineral particles such as calcium carbonate and kaolin. Using conventional production methods, industrial mineral coatings for high-quality paper would need to be twice as thick as the beetle shell to be as white.

It is possible to mimic some of the structure of the insect's shell to produce an enhanced bright white coating for paper, researchers have found.

This could result in lighter paper with a very high degree of whiteness. Lighter paper would also reduce transportation costs.

Dr Benny Hallam, application support manager of Imerys Pigments for Paper Europe Technology Group, said: "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."

Prof Pete Vukusic of the university's school of physics said: "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."

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Title Annotation:TECHNOLOGY
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 24, 2009
Words:295
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