Diatom, A Living Photonic Crystal

Material used: Coarse Spanish Sandstone

DEDICATION: A tribute to Professor David Tong, to be installed at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge, England.

Diatoms are minuscule improbabilities in the vast cosmos. They are tiny marine algae that produce some 20% of the planet’s oxygen and hundreds of their genes have been acquired from bacteria. Each day, about half of this enormous interconnected ecosystem of diatoms gets preyed on by bacteriophage viruses and, in doing so, organic molecules are recycled into the oceans. The silica cell wall of the diatom is a highly specialized photonic crystal with complex geometric array of pores which act like a transistor or a diffraction grating by moderating light waves in a quantum manner. Photonic crystals were created by these creatures about a billion years ago, whereas mankind only invented electronic photonic crystals in 1987.