Torben Lenau > The Beetle Project


The Beetle project - visual surfaces inspired by nature

The Beetle project investigates if it is possible to mimic the colour and mirror effects found in nature and produce similar micro- and nanostructures artificially. The hope is to produce coloured and reflective surfaces using the same principles as nature and achieving benefits like new visual effects, new and brighter colours, better reflections, more long lasting surfaces and better environmental performance with respect to pollution and use of resources. The surfaces should be complex free-formed and it should be possible to coat dielectric materials with low melting points like polymers.

The resulting technology is intended to be used in a broad range of consumer products as well as architectural elements. It would be a more environmentally friendly alternative to pigment based paint and metallization. Furthermore the new aesthetic possibilities will help industrial designers and architects in creating attractive appearances in future products. This is important in many industrial sectors, since aesthetics and product appearance is becoming an increasingly significant position parameter. The project searches for alternative coating principles, materials and microstructuring principles, and experimentally try to produce coatings with the vivid colour effects and metallic reflections seen in the beetle shells.

Diatom algea are studied in order to utilize the natural photonic structures as filters and pigments in paint, sun screens and polymers.

The project also examines the material innovation process by mapping the progress and identifying key factors important for idea generation, phenomena analysis, requirement understanding, solution generation as well as the accept and propagation of the found solutions.

Project team:

Torben Lenau and Michael Barfoed, Department of Management Engineering
Technical University of Denmark


L.H.Shu, T.A.Lenau, H.N.Hansen, L.Alting: Biomimetics applied to centeringin micro-assembly, CIRP-annals 2003, vol 52/1/2003, p.101-104.

Torben Lenau, Michael Barfoed and Li Shu: Challenges in biomimetic design and innovation, Poster at the conference 'Bioinspired Nanotechnologies for Smarter Products', 20th - 21st March 2007 at the Society of Chemical Industry, London, organised by The Institute of Nanotechnology.

Torben Lenau and Michael Barfoed: Material Innovation - inspired by nature, Danish Metallurgical Society - Annual Winter Meeting, Middelfart 10-12 January 2007, 10 pages.

Torben Lenau and Michael Barfoed: Teknisk udvikling med inspiration i naturen, Teknisk Nyt Special, Nr. 5a, Vol. 14, April 2007, p.25-26.

Torben Lenau and Michael Barfoed: Colours and metallic sheen in beetle shells- a biomimetic search for material structuring principles causing light interference, Journal of Advanced Engineering Materials, vol.10, no. 4, 2008, 299-314, DOI: 10.1002/adem.200700346.

Torben Lenau, Hyunmin Cheong and Li Shu: Sensing in nature - using biomimetics for design of sensors, Sensor Review, Vol 28-4, 2008, p.311-316.

Bionik - med naturen som forbillede (Biomimetics - with nature as a role model), Danmarks Radio p1 Videnskabens Verden 4. oktober 2008 16-17, can be heard or pod-casted from (in Danish)

Torben Lenau: Biomimetics as a design methodology – possibilities and challenges, International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED'09 24 - 27 august 2009, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA.

Torben Lenau: Approaches to mimic the metallic sheen in beetles, SPIE Optics & Photonics - The Biomimetics and Bioinspiration conference, 2-6 August 2009, San Diego, USA.

Lenau, T. (2012) Nature inspired structural colour applications, In: Biomimetic in Photonics, ed. Olaf Karthaus, CRC Press p. 72-96 (Series in Optics and optoelectronics).

Overview litterature:

S. Kinoshita and S. Yoshioka, Structural colors in nature. A role of regularity and irregularity in the structure, ChemPhysChem 6, 1443-1459 (2005), (DOI: 10.1002/cphc.200500007)

A. C. Neville; Biology of the Arthropod Cuticle; Springer-Verlag 1975.

Andrew R. Parker, David R. McKenzie and Maryanne C. J. Large; Multilayer reflectors in animals using green and gold beetles as contrasting examples; Department of Physics, Dublin Institute of Applied Physics, Dublin, Ireland; J. exp. biol. 201, p. 1307-1313, 1998.

Andrew Richard Parker; 515 million years of structural colour; University of Oxford, UK; J. Opt. A: Pure Appl. Opt. 2 (2000) R15-R28.

Jean Pol Vigneron, Marrie Rassart, Cédric Vandenbem, Virginie Lousse, Oliver Deparis, László P. Biró, Daniel Dedouaire, Alan Cornet, and Pierre Defrance; Spectral filtering of visible light by the cuticle of metallic woodboring beetles and microfabrication of a matching bioinspired material; Universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix, Bruxelles, Belgium, Stanford University, California, USA, Research Institute for Technical Physics and Materals Science, Budapest, Hungary; Physical Review E 73, 041905 pp. 1-8 (2006).

Pete Vukusic and Roy Sambles: ”Photonic structures in biology”, Nature 424, 852-855, 14/8 2003.