Pete Vukusic - Evolutionary Photonics: natural designs for manipulating the flow of light and colour

Professor Pete Vukusic, University of Exeter, UK
Leuchs-Russell Auditorium, A.1.500, Staudtstr. 2
Location details


The study of structural colour in highly conspicuous animals and plants is an exciting interdisciplinary area of research. Complex photonic bandgap (PBG) structures in Colepotera and Lepidoptera suggest broad innovation in nature’s use of materials and its manipulation of light. In certain butterflies, ultra-long-range visibility of up to one half-mile is attributed to photonic structures that are formed by discrete multilayers of cuticle and air. This contrasts, in other species, to photonic structures designed more for crypsis and which not only produce strong polarisation effects but can also create colour stimulus synthesis using highly adapted structures. Optical systems also exist that employ remarkable 2D and 3D photonic crystals to produce partial PBGs, with the effect that bright colour is reflected, or fluorescence emission is inhibited, over specific angle ranges. From the perspective of modern optical technology, these structures indicate a significant evolutionary step, since in principle, these 2D and 3D periodicities are potentially are able to manipulate the flow of light in all directions. This lecture will present an overview of this emerging field of study, as well as several of the exciting recent discoveries that reflect nature’s optical design ingenuity, and the technological applications to which they are currently being applied.


Pete Vukusic began investigating structural colour in the University of Exeter School of Physics in 1998. Iridescent appearances and the photonic properties of butterflies and moths was central to the original work but his research has diversified to comprise the photonics of a much broader range of animals and plants. Pete formed and leads the Biological Photonics research group at Exeter. The group’s research is motivated by the goal of fundamentally understanding naturally evolved strategies at work in the manipulation of light, colour, pattern and appearances. The group’s principle aims comprise development of a critical knowledge base of biological strategies involved in evolved photonic system processes and applying them to improve existing technologies. Pete is an international award-winning science presenter who has delivered science outreach activities to students and adults in Europe, the US and Africa. He is currently the Dean for Education at the University of Exeter in the UK.

The lectures will follow a colloquium format for a broad audience and will be followed by a reception to provide an opportunity for meeting the speaker.

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