Oriental Hornet Capable of Converting Sun's Energy into Electric Power
January 7, 2011 6:50 PM
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(Source: Sciencedaily.com/Wikimedia Commons)
Could lead to the development of better solar cells
Tel Aviv University
scientists have found that Oriental hornets have similar capabilities as plants when it comes to the process of photosynthesis.
Professor David Bergman, a physicist and professor at Tel Aviv University's School of Physics and Astronomy, along with Professor Jacob Ishay, of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and Professor Marian Plotkin, a doctoral candidate, have studied
the Oriental hornet
and found that certain parts of its body are capable of converting the sun's energy into electric power much like plants do during photosynthesis.
Entomologists have recorded similar results when studying Oriental wasps. They found that the wasps were more active during the afternoon when the sun was at its highest point rather than the early morning when the sun was just rising, or at night. The same results were recorded for hornets, who were digging more energetically when the sun was up.
Several years ago, Bergman and his team discovered that the Oriental hornet's exoskeleton, or outer body shell, was capable of
harvesting solar energy
. Since this discovery, the researchers have tried to imitate this process by studying all the elements that could affect how this occurs. Humidity, temperature, solar radiation and other weather-related conditions were studied, and the results showed that UVB radiation solely caused the change in the hornet's behavior. The hornet's body also contains a heat pump system that keeps it cool despite absorbing the suns energy.
In addition, the researchers found that the yellow and brown stripes on the Oriental hornet's abdomen specifically allow a photo-voltaic effect, absorbing radiation while the yellow pigment converts it into electric power. The brown shell is made from grooves that split the light into separate beams, and the yellow is made from "pinhole depressions" holding a pigment called xanthopterin.
Researchers have tried to
imitate this process
in the lab, but had poor results. They could not reach the same efficiency rates of energy collection as the Oriental hornets. But they plan to continue improving their methods to mimic this process in order to better understand it and possibly create better solar cells based on the findings.
"The interesting thing here is that a living biological creature does a thing like that," said Bergman. "The hornet may have discovered things that we do not yet know."
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RE: Er Bergman...
1/8/2011 12:37:04 PM
It is false to draw that conclusion. It could as easily be the case that the particular hornet was more dominant previously, before it had evolved this trait, that other insects mutating in different ways made the other insects, not the hornet, naturally selected.
We can look at activity levels when there is more sunlight, but what about contrasting activity levels of other hornets which may not slow down in activity so much when there isn't as much sunlight? We can't assume the trait even plays any role in natural selection without first establishing that this has any effect at all on their survival.
For example we could go to a hospital and look at a room full of people with severe birth defects and say "ah, it's natural selection", when in fact we are looking at a population that is less likely to survive (except our species cares for those less fortunate so my example is a poor one), that is not naturally selected.
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