Mirror, Mirror – What is the whitest of all?

By the way, we have completed three years on this blog.

Did you know that for Mother Nature, white is the hardest of all colors to produce? That’s because white is created only when all visible wavelengths are scattered in a certain way. There are some whites that are familiar like milk, teeth, snow etc.  But it is the Cyphochilus beetle that has. Produced the whitest substance – its own ultrathin shell. By ISO standards,  Cyphochilus measures 60 in whiteness and 65 in brightness. By contrast, human baby teeth scores 40 in whiteness  and a 53 in brightness. Pete Vukusic at the University of Exeter, in southwest England, has been researching this beetle and says that what is even more remarkable is how Cyphochilus achieves this feat in whiteness in a 5 micrometer thick shell. This is less than 1percent of the thickness,  typically needed to achieve the scattering required for generating comparable whiteness in synthetic materials. In what could be a coup for Biomemetics, One day Vukusic says we’ll be able to produce white LEDs that mimic Cyphochilus’s techniques. 

I was thinking about this thickness issue and I realized there are a quite a few things in nature that are quite thin and are white – grayed human hair 50-100 micrometers, a petal from a white bouganvillea plant – possibly less than a millimeter thick. Don’t know if these are technically in the white category.

Anyway, next time you see something white in color, remember how difficult it is for mother nature to produce it.  

<Via IEEE Spectrum June 2007 Issue>


We had covered a building in Zimbabwe that mimics the fascinating termite mounds.  


  1. Anonymous said June 27, 2007, 10:57 am:

    This scattering thing is new to me. I thought white surface does not absorb any light and that is why it is white.

    Doesn’t scattering depend on the texture too?

  2. Anonymous said June 27, 2007, 4:48 pm:

    You are right Archana. Highly polished surfaces should not create shades and reflect more.

  3. Anonymous said July 4, 2007, 10:55 am:


    if you look at the phenomenon of scattering carefully, reflection is a subset of that. The amount of reflection is of course based on the material.