Spectacular natural optical phenomena are produced by highly reflective assemblies of organic crystals. Here we show how the tapetum reflector in a shrimp eye is constructed from arrays of spherical isoxanthopterin nanoparticles and relate the particle properties to their optical function. The nanoparticles are composed of single-crystal isoxanthopterin nanoplates arranged in concentric lamellae around a hollow core. The spherulitic birefringence of the nanoparticles, which originates from the radial alignment of the plates, results in a significant enhancement of the back-scattering. This enables the organism to maximize the reflectivity of the ultrathin tapetum, which functions to increase the eye’s sensitivity and preserve visual acuity. The particle size, core/shell ratio and packing are also controlled to optimize the intensity and spectral properties of the tapetum back-scattering. This system offers inspiration for the design of photonic crystals constructed from spherically symmetric birefringent particles for use in ultrathin reflectors and as non-iridescent pigments.
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The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.
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This work was supported by Israel Science Foundation Grants 354/18 and 583/17, the Crown Center of Photonics and the ICORE: The Israeli Center of Research Excellence ‘Circle of Light.’ L.A. is the incumbent of the Dorothy and Patrick Gorman Professorial Chair of Biological Ultrastructure. D.O. is the incumbent of the Harry Weinrebe Professorial Chair of laser physics. B.A.P. is the recipient of the 2019 Azrieli Faculty Fellowship.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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One sentence summary: The birefringence of isoxanthopterin crystalline spherulites enhances the reflectivity of a biological photonic crystal.
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Palmer, B.A., Yallapragada, V.J., Schiffmann, N. et al. A highly reflective biogenic photonic material from core–shell birefringent nanoparticles. Nat. Nanotechnol. (2020) doi:10.1038/s41565-019-0609-5