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Creation 35(2):53, April 2013

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Firefly lanterns inspire LED lenses


This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 35(2):53. under the name “Fireflies’ fantastic light transmission”
Wikimedia commons/NEUROtiker

We have often reported on human designers copying the designs in nature.1 One promising field is how organisms generate and manipulate light. Bioluminescence, such as in fireflies and octopuses,2 generates light from chemicals very efficiently. Some butterfly wings reflect light in spectacular iridescent colours with scales acting as diffraction gratings, and have extremely black rims because of scales that trap light. This has inspired pigment designs.3 And moth eyes have an ingenious anti-reflective surface, with a nano-structure hard to duplicate.4

Fireflies are actually not flies but beetles.5 They use bioluminescence to produce light on the lower abdomen. In the larva, this glow seems to be a warning that their flesh is poisonous, and in the adult, the light helps to attract a mate. The light is produced by a chemical called luciferin,6 found in special cells called photocytes. In addition, it also requires an enzyme, luciferase, magnesium, oxygen, and energy via ATP (produced by the world’s tiniest motor7).

Not only is the biochemistry efficient, but also the light transmission. There are three layers: cuticle (window), photogenic (light-producing), and a dorsal layer. The photogenic layer produces light in all directions. This either passes through the cuticle directly or after reflecting off the dorsal layer. This is extremely reflective, because it is a finely-layered structure called a dielectric mirror.

And the window itself also has amazing fine structure. Normally, when light passes through a boundary between different materials, some is lost through reflection. This can be minimized through a process called optical impedance matching. It turns out that the cuticles on firefly lanterns have a very fine structure that does just this. It has very tiny ridges: 150 nanometres in width, 110 nm in height, and a period (distance between one high-point and the next) of 250 nm (1 inch = 25.4 million nm).8 This turns out to be the best dimensions to transmit the most light at the firefly’s peak wavelength of 560 nm (yellow-green). Incidentally, our eyes are most sensitive to the same colour.

Now, researchers at the Biophotonics Lab of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, led by Ki-Hun Jeong, have duplicated this structure for an LED lens. This enabled 3% more light to be transmitted than a smooth lens. This sounds small, but in the quest to maximize energy efficiency, it’s a good start. The researchers say, “This biological inspiration can offer new opportunities for increasing the light extraction efficiency of high-power LED packages.”

Of course, a report made the usual fact-free homage to evolution, claiming “efficient versions of these nanostructures have been selected for over hundreds of millions of years.”9 But the practical research used design principles to duplicate these nanostructures. So if the plagiarized copies required brilliant design, how much more the originals?


  1. See Scientists copying nature (biomimetics), creation.com/biomimetics. Return to text.
  2. Johnsen, S. and two others, A., Light-emitting suckers in an octopus, Nature 398(6723):113–114, 11 March 1999. See also Sarfati, J., Octopus suckers: glowing in the dark, Creation 21(3):6, 1999; creation.com/octopus. Return to text.
  3. Vukusic, P., et al., Sculpted-multilayer optical effects in two species of Papilio butterfly, Applied Optics 40(7):1116–1125, 2001. See also Sarfati, J., Beautiful black and blue butterflies, Journal of Creation 19(1):9–10, 2005; creation.com/blue; By Design, ch. 3, Creation Book Publishers, 2008. Some butterflies even produce a dual signal with two diffraction gratings super-imposed on single scales. See Ingram, A.L. et al., Dual gratings interspersed on a single butterfly scale, Journal of the Royal Society Interface 5(28):1387–1390, 6 November 2008 | DOI 10.1098/rsif.2008.0227; Sarfati, J., Butterfly brilliance: Dual diffraction gratings produce two colour signals, Journal of Creation 23(1):15–16, 2009. Return to text.
  4. Hadhazy, A., Moths’ eyes inspire reflection-free displays, LiveScience.com, 25 May 2010. See also Moth eyes inspire anti-reflective surface—but difficult to copy, Creation 32(4):11, 2010. Return to text.
  5. The European glowworm is the wingless adult female of the firefly family Lampyridae. Cave glowworms in Australia and New Zealand are generally larvae of fungus gnats, whose glow attracts midges, trapping them on sticky filaments. Return to text.
  6. The Latin lucifer just means “light-bearer”; the word itself has no connections to Satan, even if he is sometimes called that because he impersonates an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Return to text.
  7. Thomas, B., ATP synthase: majestic molecular machine made by a mastermind, Creation 31(4):21–23, 2009; creation.com/atp-synthase. Return to text.
  8. Kim, Jae-Jun and six others, Biologically inspired LED lens from cuticular nanostructures of firefly lantern, PNAS 109(46):18674–18678, 13 November 2012 | doi:10.1073/pnas.1213331109. Return to text.
  9. Hodson, H., Firefly glow lights up better LEDs, newscientist.com, 29 October 2012. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Les G.
One can understand believers holding to Theistic Evolution, however mistakenly. Scientists, however, who are face to face with phenomena such as those in the article are not just blind; they are deliberately, stubbornly blind. The gullibility of Flat-Earth Society people is as nothing compared to that of scientists who insist that these amazingly designed creations are the result of countless millions of years of “natural selection”.
Michael S.
Of course it is no surprise to us as constant readers, that Dr Sarfati has nailed yet another sound syllogism. ;-)

The practical and evidential support, Bio-mimetics lends to design is incontrovertible. Not only does it show in real-life terms, proof of direct design in organisms, but as usual, the designs in the biology far outweigh our own technological prowess.

If humans need help from biological systems, and biological systems evolved without any intelligent involvement then how is it that clever mindful humans need the help of thoughtless, blind mechanisms? It is a contradiction because it is like saying that the rocks stand a better chance of multiplying 5 by 5, than we do.

If we humans can write a simple book, then that simple book needs an author, but if we then find a far more sophisticated book what can we can conclude?

We can conclude that we require a more sophisticated author, but the evolutionists would have us believe that no author was involved.

I submit that if evolutionists tell us there is no designer in organisms, then logically they also have to tell us there is no designer to Ferraris, because you can’t argue the one without the other.
Dave R.
Yours is the most powerful voice today for creationism, and I have learned much from virtually every line, written by your staff of credible, logical, and knowledgeable Christian spokesmen. I share the information provided by CMI with my family members and friends, especially the grandchildren, because they (as we all) are under constant bombardment by the evolutionists and from every quarter (textbooks, movies, videos, television documentaries, etc.). I've discovered that, almost without exception, both those who propose and also those who parrot the deep time evolutionary position are either ignorant of their “facts”, or deliberately misrepresent the evidence, or both. And much of the ignorance which surrounds molecules-to-mice-to-men “theory” is understandable because, too often, lay people and especially our young (students) have had, for many years now, little investigative information other than the biased assumptions provided by godless, humanist, secularist educators. Thus, the CMI lighthouse is vital to us. That is why I subscribe to and support CMI, and pass along the detailed, documented, and sagacious information you provide to us. I believe that, in Western culture today, Satan has discovered that the attack on Genesis produces better results than would a frontal attack on the major doctrines of the Bible. He knows that if the foundation can be undermined, the structure it supports will eventually collapse upon itself due to inconsistencies. Thank you for refusing to allow that he continue unchallenged to assail our biblical foundation for belief which is located in the book of Genesis.
Eileen T.
Thank you for this information—it’s very useful to someone like me who wants to promote the fact of ‘Creation’ by an Intelligent Mind [our Lord Jesus Christ]. Your closing words echo mine, written this morning for my photo blog , exactly. All mankind’s best efforts are mere copies of the originals.
Jack C.
When are evolutionists going to give up their nonsense theory and admit that complex life somehow magically appeared in the beginning? They would make a lot more sense even if they still rejected God and came up with other albeit false theories, such as complex life started by accident, and that evolution has no play at all in the origin of the species. The more they persist with the theory of evolution the more silly they look. If someone proposed a theory to explain something in any other field of science, and it had a fraction of the numerous holes and contradictions as the theory of evolution, that person would be considered to be a crackpot.

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