Pete Vukusic

Professor of BioPhotonics

Researching Colour in Nature

Hardly anything seems to excite physicist Peter Vukusic more than the bright and radiating blue colour of the Morpho butterfly. Iridescent appearances and the photonic properties of butterflies and moths were central to the original work of physicist Vukusic when he began investigating structural colour in the University of Exeter School of Physics in 1998. But his research has diversified since then to comprise the photonics of a much broader range of animals and plants.

The natural world has a lot to offer to scientists in this field. Vukusic: ‘There are 50.000 butterfly species, 250.000 different beetle species, let alone the amount of bird species and fish species. And all of those need a physics-based understanding.’

Vukusic formed and leads the Biological Photonics research group at Exeter. The group’s research is motivated by the goal of fundamentally understanding naturally evolved strategies at work in the manipulation of light and appearances. Next, the group aims to apply the accumulated knowledge to improve existing man-made technologies.

‘When we understand how for instance the colour of the Morpho butterfly was produced and how the brightness is just so in-your-face bright, then we can start to apply those design ideas to various technologies,’ says Vukusic. ‘We could use them to make fabrics, new surfaces for plates or design body paint for cars.’

Next to his research work Vukusic is currently the Dean for Education at the University of Exeter.

Physics, Nature, Science, Netherlands PINC.17