A fundamental question regarding light scattering is how whiteness, generated from multiple scattering, can be obtained from thin layers of materials. This challenge arises from the phenomenon of optical crowding, whereby, for scatterers packed with filling fractions higher than ~30%, reflectance is drastically reduced due to near-field coupling between the scatterers. Here we show that the extreme birefringence of isoxanthopterin nanospheres overcomes optical crowding effects, enabling multiple scattering and brilliant whiteness from ultra-thin chromatophore cells in shrimp. Strikingly, numerical simulations reveal that birefringence, originating from the spherulitic arrangement of isoxanthopterin molecules, enables intense broadband scattering almost up to the maximal packing for random spheres. This reduces the thickness of material required to produce brilliant whiteness, resulting in a photonic system that is more efficient than other biogenic or biomimetic white materials which operate in the lower refractive index medium of air. These results highlight the importance of birefringence as a structural variable to enhance the performance of such materials and could contribute to the design of biologically inspired replacements for artificial scatterers like titanium dioxide.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
- Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics