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J R Soc Interface. 2005 Mar 22;2(2):1-17.

A geological history of reflecting optics.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Oxford South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK.


Optical reflectors in animals are diverse and ancient. The first image-forming eye appeared around 543 million years ago. This introduced vision as a selection pressure in the evolution of animals, and consequently the evolution of adapted optical devices. The earliest known optical reflectors--diffraction gratings--are 515 Myr old. The subsequent fossil record preserves multilayer reflectors, including liquid crystals and mirrors, 'white' and 'blue' scattering structures, antireflective surfaces and the very latest addition to optical physics--photonic crystals. The aim of this article is to reveal the diversity of reflecting optics in nature, introducing the first appearance of some reflector types as they appear in the fossil record as it stands (which includes many new records) and backdating others in geological time through evolutionary analyses. This article also reveals the commercial potential for these optical devices, in terms of lessons from their nano-level designs and the possible emulation of their engineering processes--molecular self-assembly.

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