Learning From An Ancient Fly

A huge percentage of man's technology has come from his studies of nature.  It is easy to see how watching birds led to airplanes, for example; but many much more sophisticated examples have been seen in recent years.  Recently,  a major discovery in solar panel efficiency was made by studying the eye of a fly that lived during the Eocene epoch called Dolichopodidae.

Dr. Andrew Parker was studying electron micrographs of the surface of the fly's eye when he noticed gratings consisting of parallel ridges 145 X 10-9 meters high and 240 X 10-9 meters apart.  These distances are about half of the length of a light wave which makes it hard for light to reflect from the surface. chart.gif

To help you understand this, image you are standing on the edge of a lake with a flat rock in your hand. Does it matter at what angle you throw the rock as far as what the rock does is concerned?  The answer, of course, is that if the rock hits at a low angle as shown in Box A, it will skip.  If it hits at a high angle as shown in Box B,  it will penetrate.  Now look at Box C.

What will happen now if you throw the rock? The answer depends on how big the rock is as well as the angle.  If it is a huge rock, it will not be affected much.

What Parker found was that the grooves were spaced in such a way that light would almost always penetrate.  To skip off the eye, the light would have to hit at an angle lower than 18°! That means that the fly could see very well in dim light.

Dr. Geoff Smith at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, has found that making solar panels with the same grooves allows them all to function without moving them to track the sun.  We are learning once again to copy God's design to improve a man-made device that can provide energy to improve our lives.  The engineering seen in living things continues to amaze and astound us.  Everywhere we look, a wonder working hand has gone before.

--data from New Scientist, April 17, 1999, page 21

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