An interesting observation on the way wasps live and how their body works led some UK and Israeli scientists to the conclusion that they may be harnessing solar power just like a photovoltaic solar cell.
The researchers, led by Dr. Marian Plotkin from Tel-Aviv University, noticed that the wasps’ activity increased with sunlight. Then, they found that the wasps’ exoskeleton contained an array of grooves in its brown part, each one measuring 160 nanometers in height.
The yellow parts, on the other hand, are made of a cuticle material that has a series of interlocking 50 nm-tall oval-shaped protrusions, each one having a pinhole-sized depression.
And you won’t believe your eyes when you read this: the wasp’s brown areas collect light, which then enters a sheet-like structure several layers thick. Rod-like structures are contained within each of the layers, and they are embedded in protein matrix. The rods are made from a polymer – chitin, which bounces the trapped light back and forth within the yellow cuticle…
…which converts light into electricity. And that’s the funniest part. The yellow cuticle contains a pigment called xanthopterin, which has been proven to have the ability of acting like an organic solar cell (aka dye-sensitized, or Graetzel).
The researchers made a solar cell using this yellow substance, and really observed a 0.335 conversion efficiency, that, even if not very useful, was enough to prove their theory and put the foundation for more research using it.