Physicists discover how the outer shell of a hornet can harvest solar power

Jan 05, 2011
Physicists discover how the outer shell of a hornet can harvest solar power

As every middle-school child knows, in the process of photosynthesis, plants take the sun's energy and convert it to electrical energy. Now a Tel Aviv University team has demonstrated how a member of the animal kingdom, the Oriental hornet, takes the sun's energy and converts it into electric power -- in the brown and yellow parts of its body -- as well.

"The interesting thing here is that a living biological creature does a thing like that," says physicist Prof. David Bergman of Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy, who was part of the team that made discovery. "The hornet may have discovered things we do not yet know." In partnership with the late Prof. Jacob Ishay of the university's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Bergman and his doctoral candidate Marian Plotkin engaged in a truly interdisciplinary research project to explain the biological processes that turn a hornet's abdomen into .

The research team made the discovery several years ago, and recently tried to mimic it. The results show that the hornet's body shell, or , is able to harvest solar . They were recently published in the German journal Naturwissenschaften.

Discovering a new system for renewable energy?

Previously, entomologists noted that Oriental , unlike other wasps and bees, are active in the afternoon rather than the morning when the sun is just rising. They also noticed that the hornet digs more intensely as the sun's intensity increases.

Taking this information to the lab, the Tel Aviv University team studied weather conditions like temperature, humidity and to determine if and how these factors also affected the hornet's behavior, but found that UVB radiation alone dictated the change.

In the course of their research, the Tel Aviv University team also found that the yellow and brown stripes on the hornet abdomen enable a photo-voltaic effect: the brown and yellow stripes on the hornet abdomen can absorb solar radiation, and the yellow pigment transforms that into electric power.

The team determined that the brown shell of the hornet was made from grooves that split light into diverging beams. The yellow stripe on the abdomen is made from pinhole depressions, and contains a pigment called xanthopterin. Together, the light diverging grooves, pinhole depressions and xanthopterin change light into electrical energy. The shell traps the light and the pigment does the conversion.

A biological heat pump

The researchers also found a number of energy processes unique to the insect. Like air conditioners and refrigerators, the hornet has a well-developed heat pump system in its body which keeps it cooler than the outside temperature while it forages in the sun. This is something that's not easy to do, says Prof. Bergman.

To see if the solar collecting prowess of the hornet could be duplicated, the team imitated the structure of the hornet's body but had poor results in achieving the same high efficiency rates of energy collection. In the future, they plan to refine the model to see if this "bio-mimicry" can give clues to novel renewable energy solutions.

The research team also discovered that hornets use finely honed acoustic signals to guide them so they can build their combs with extraordinary precision in total darkness. Bees can at least see what they are doing, explains Prof. Bergman, but hornets cannot -- it's totally dark inside a hornet nest.

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User comments : 44

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Yevgen
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 05, 2011
This sounds like an extraordinary claim that is not sufficiently supported. It is not clear for example what chemical process happens as result of adsorbing a photon.
Clearly it is not CO2 capture or releasing O2. Than what is it?
Clearly it can not store electrical energy in a non-chemical form like a capacitor, since there is no
electronically conductive parts on the insect surface.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2011
Well, they did say that they reproduced the effect in the lab. I will assume that they know more about the process than what this article says, and that the article just didn't go into details that would make the average reader yawn.
TabulaMentis
1.3 / 5 (6) Jan 05, 2011
Yevgen:

I was thinking almost the same thing. Are the photons converted to chemical energy or does it convert the photons into a form of energy we have yet to discover that all life forms use for thought processes.

Research in this area could possibly yield clues in how to create artifical intelligence that rivals humans and provide robotics research a major boost, not to mention other areas of research that are considered sci-fi such as; immortality, gravity engines, teleporters, replicators and so forth.
thales
4.6 / 5 (13) Jan 05, 2011
@ TabulaMentis: I would agree with you if the article said something along the lines of "artificially intelligent and immortal hornets utilize antigravity to teleport and replicate". I admire your excitement but this isn't the area of research that's going give us the singularity.

@ Yevgen: Yeah, it seems a little too casual doesn't it. Cool if it turns out to be true though.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (8) Jan 05, 2011
@thales:
@ TabulaMentis: I would agree with you if the article said something along the lines of "artificially intelligent and immortal hornets utilize antigravity to teleport and replicate". I admire your excitement but this isn't the area of research that's going give us the singularity.

@ Yevgen: Yeah, it seems a little too casual doesn't it. Cool if it turns out to be true though.


First of all, I am not a fan of humans becoming a singularity.
Second: How do you know how the hornets are utilizing the photons and what innovations it could lead to?
Third: I do not care if you have a narrow viewpoint of research into futuristic ideas!
retrosurf
not rated yet Jan 05, 2011
I guess Bergman's "spaser" has played out, and he's looking for a another lode to mine. Solar energy is pretty hot these days, and he has some experience with dye-sensitization.

I wouldn't be surprised if the hornets in question had some ability to sense light on their abdomens, but pretty much any "bleaching" induced by UV provides a possible electrochemical manifestation.
Ratfish
not rated yet Jan 05, 2011
Seems like any poikilotherm does essentially this by using external heat sources instead of metabolic energy to regulate body temperature. This doesn't strike me as being as novel as presented.
kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (13) Jan 06, 2011
I'm glad the researchers spent time on this. It just goes to show once again how impossible evolution is.
Here we have complex systems working together in one tiny little insect, systems without which it couldn't continue to live. The systems are irreducibly complex and couldn't "evolve" part by part - it had to be all or nothing for the simple reason that the creature couldn't learn how to use it if it just appeared for no particular reason.
Never mind learn how to use it, how did it know how to construct it from scratch? Where did the information come from to utilize materials from ingestion, then construct new structures and shapes and layers and finally to integrate it all into working life-support systems. If you have more than hand-waving and magical fairytale responses please let us know.
Ethelred
5 / 5 (9) Jan 06, 2011
irreducibly complex and couldn't "evolve" part by part
The parts most certainly CAN evolve in parallel. Behe engaged in the same kind of nonsense for the same reason. He did not WANT to know how it could have happened. So he didn't look. Wound up looking pretty foolish in the Dover case when he shown case after case of how did things wrong.
Never mind learn how to use it, how did it know how to construct it from scratch
It evolved the tools and techniques a little at a time. They don't have any competitor doing the same thing so they didn't have to be very efficient. Which is just one of the mistakes Behe makes time and again.
Where did the information come from to utilize materials from ingestion,
You know the answer. Considering how many times I have told you. THE ENVIRONMENT.
If you have more than hand-waving and magical fairytale responses please let us know.
You did handwaving and magical invocations just fine. I prefer actual reason.

Ethelred
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (1) Jan 06, 2011
@kevinrtrs:

Without saying it, I guess you claim God designed everything and that evolution played not part in our existence, right?

Furthermore, you will probably claim that God has always existed, right?

But what would you say if someone told you that God is a product of evolution?

I think, for the most part, our existence could be compared to throwing mud against the wall to see if it sticks. And if that doesn't work, then try, try again.
Simonsez
5 / 5 (4) Jan 06, 2011
@kevinrtrs:

But what would you say if someone told you that God is a product of evolution?

This was suggested in a science fiction novel, The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. I thought it was one of the greatest philosophical musings I'd ever read, really thought-provoking. Certainly blasphemy to the very religious.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 06, 2011
If you have more than hand-waving and magical fairytale responses please let us know.
I have a magical fairytale response.

This dude named God spoke it all into existence in 6 days. You know, incantations and shit... proof? You prove it didn't happen that way, until then it's proved. /sarcasm

Kev, you're not even a creationist anymore, you're just a cretin.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (2) Jan 06, 2011
The Fall of Hyperion, by Dan Simmons


I read that series, and absolutely loved it. It was a really fun read; one of my all time favorites.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2011
Certainly blasphemy to the very religious.

As you well know those very religious use to think the earth was flat and that it was also the center of the universe. I came up with the same evolution idea as Dan Simmons in 1991 without hearing about his book in 1990.
TabulaMentis
1.7 / 5 (6) Jan 07, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:
This dude named God spoke it all into existence in 6 days. You know, incantations and shit...

Maybe Genesis could be looked at being more symbolic than actually happening they way religious texts say.
I actually find Revelation to be more realistic and futuristic than what most people refer to as being symbolic.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (8) Jan 07, 2011
I actually find Revelation to be more realistic and futuristic than what most people refer to as being symbolic.
So 6 headed dragons and angels pouring goblets of blood upon the Earth seems realistic and futuristic to you?

Just log off.
TabulaMentis
3 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2011
So 6 headed dragons and angels pouring goblets of blood upon the Earth seems realistic and futuristic to you?

Cloning and gravity innovations will take care of that very nicely.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.1 / 5 (9) Jan 07, 2011
So 6 headed dragons and angels pouring goblets of blood upon the Earth seems realistic and futuristic to you?

Cloning and gravity research in the future will take care of that very nicely.
Who's your dealer? PM me his number because whatever you're on must be absolutely killer.
TabulaMentis
2 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:

I guess you think the most futuristic innovation in 2050 will be a new iPod?
Skeptic_Heretic
3.9 / 5 (7) Jan 07, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:

I guess you think the most futuristic innovation in 2050 will be a new iPod?

Well I certainly don't think it'll be a 6 headed world ending dragon from Revelations.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.6 / 5 (10) Jan 07, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:

I guess you think the most futuristic innovation in 2050 will be a new iPod?

Well I certainly don't think it'll be a 6 headed world ending dragon from Revelations.

Maybe it'll be a mix of the two.

iPocalypse.

LOL.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:
Well I certainly don't think it'll be a 6 headed world ending dragon from Revelations.

If Adolf Hitler were around then he would probably do it just to scare the hell out of everyone!
TabulaMentis
3 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:
Maybe it'll be a mix of the two. iPocalypse.

I like that. Very funny.
justMe
not rated yet Jan 07, 2011
Am I missing something? Doesn't the retina of ones eye convert light into electrical impulses?
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Jan 08, 2011
Am I missing something? Doesn't the retina of ones eye convert light into electrical impulses?

Yes, it does.
TabulaMentis
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:
Am I missing something? Doesn't the retina of ones eye convert light into electrical impulses?

Yes, it does.


You are a sharp person and funny at times. Only out of curiosity, what do you think those electrical impulses become once they reach the brain? Is there a transformation into another form of energy we have yet to figure out?
Witch9
not rated yet Jan 09, 2011
so what? what does the hornet do with electricity? and how? and doesn't that just mean hornets don't have to buy batteries? how many hornets do you have to hook up to your home's wiring to run the television?
Witch9
not rated yet Jan 09, 2011

I came up with the same evolution idea as Dan Simmons in 1991 without hearing about his book in 1990.


if he wrote the book first, that's where you got the idea; mystics call it "imprinting", the concept that at some level we all have access to the same knowledge as the rest of the collective un/conscious

there was a study decades ago in England, for example, that indicated people could complete a months-old crossword puzzle faster and more accurately, after thousands had already worked on it, than a brand-new one; in this case, there were probably many besides Simmons who put those ideas into the web before you 'thought' of it
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (3) Jan 09, 2011
@Witch9:

Wrong. In 1991 I created hundreds of unique ideas that have not been made public. I guess you believe all of humanities ideas came from other civilizations on others planets and from other dimensions.
Wait, the Bible does have a few great ideas that those other people have been trying to tell us, but many humans think is BS.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (2) Jan 10, 2011
@Witch9:

I think you might be referring to entanglement related to quantum physics? However, I am not entangled to Dan Simmons. Correct me if I am wrong.

Aether theory has some strange predictions that witches probably believed in long ago.
Witch9
5 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2011
Tabula,

I'm sure you must be right; after all, anyone with different ideas than yours is always wrong, aren't they
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (1) Jan 10, 2011
I'm sure you must be right; after all, anyone with different ideas than yours is always wrong, aren't they

You are trying to brainwash me into believing something I know is not true. Someone had to create the idea from scratch. Ask Dan Simmons where he got the idea.
Provide source material, the science behind the claims you are making so I and others can look into it. I have responded intelligently and you have not.
TabulaMentis
not rated yet Jan 11, 2011
@Witch9:

I would like to add one more thing. German knight Sir George Frankenstein was reportedly killed by a dragon around 1500 AD. Frankenstein was also friend to a politician in Romania by the name Dracula. I wish they had cameras back in those days.
Skeptic_Heretic
4 / 5 (4) Jan 11, 2011
You are a sharp person and funny at times. Only out of curiosity, what do you think those electrical impulses become once they reach the brain? Is there a transformation into another form of energy we have yet to figure out?
No, they remain as electromagnetic energy, as they were before they reached the retina and they remained as they passed through the optic nerve and into the rest of the central nervous system. It's always electromagnetic energy.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2011
No, they remain as electromagnetic energy, as they were before they reached the retina and they remained as they passed through the optic nerve and into the rest of the central nervous system. It's always electromagnetic energy


Yes, and I think to answer his question more completely; The energy taken into your body (both electromagnetic and chemical) is used to do work inside your body. It's used to make chemical reactions and to cause movement. The end result is that when energy is used to do work it produces heat, which is then radiated out of your body. In the end, you are a very efficient self-propelled space heater that burns all kinds of different fuels, both synthetic and organic, and you are 100% recyclable. Really a marvelous piece of work. I would say that it would be great if our cars worked as well, but imagine what the inside of your car might smell like if it worked up a sweat or how embarrassing it would be if your car got overweight?
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2011
@Skeptic Heretic:

Thank you for your response. Maybe I should be more specific. Do you think all processes in the mind, images from sight and thoughts, are done using electromagnetic and chemical energy?

I mean, you do not believe there is another form of energy involved outside of the atomic/subatomic spectrum used by the mind for thoughts and for seeing, and analyzing visual images?

I guess you probably know where I am going with this question, the religious slant about the soul being the location where all thoughts are processed.

P.S.: I noticed some people are now using the Apocalypse term in different ways like snowpocalypse and so forth!
Ethelred
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
Do you think all processes in the mind, images from sight and thoughts, are done using electromagnetic and chemical energy?
Yes.
I mean, you do not believe there is another form of energy involved outside of the atomic/subatomic spectrum used by the mind for thoughts and for seeing, and analyzing visual images?
I am not aware of any. Kinetic energy doesn't seem like the right kind of energy to be using in the brain. Chemical and electoral pathways seems to be it, though Dr. Penrose suggested that there might quantum effects going on in the microtubules of the brain. There is no experimental evidence supporting Dr. Penrose this at the moment.
religious slant about the soul being the location where all thoughts are processed.
Would make all those brain cells superfluous. There is no evidence supporting a soul or a supernatural function of the mind. So far the mind looks to be an emergent property of the brain's chemical and electrical information processing.

Ethelred
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
Thank you for your response. Maybe I should be more specific. Do you think all processes in the mind, images from sight and thoughts, are done using electromagnetic and chemical energy?
Yes.
I mean, you do not believe there is another form of energy involved outside of the atomic/subatomic spectrum used by the mind for thoughts and for seeing, and analyzing visual images?
No.
I guess you probably know where I am going with this question, the religious slant about the soul being the location where all thoughts are processed.
Yeah and that's demonstrably false. There's a cadre of experiments that show that the brain is the controller in the human body.

TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
I am absolutely shocked the two of you Ethelred and Skeptic Heretic believe in that garbage. If that were the case I would have figured out how to become immortal years ago!
How do you explain ghosts, spirits, Loch Ness Monsters, dragons, Big Foots and ETs popping in and out of different dimensions?
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
If that were the case I would have figured out how to become immortal years ago!
Working on it, stay tuned.
How do you explain ghosts, spirits, Loch Ness Monsters, dragons, Big Foots and ETs popping in and out of different dimensions?
Overactive imaginations.
TabulaMentis
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
Working on it, stay tuned.

This I have got to see!
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
This I have got to see!
Then you have a lot of research to read.
TabulaMentis
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
Then you have a lot of research to read.

After twenty years of research it is about to go to the next level.
TabulaMentis
not rated yet Jan 13, 2011
@Ethelred:

Microtubules have reached a dead end as far as I last heard. Professor Stuart Hameroff is a big proponent of microtubules and has many interesting video classes on the subject.
I was not thinking of kinetic energy. M-theory would be a better direction to head in for people who wish to become immortal. I have many of my own ideas that should replace a great deal of string theories outlined in M-theory.

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