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Spotlight: Undergrad researcher, Michelle Dan

I’m Michelle, an undergraduate researcher on a semester exchange at the University of Melbourne! Currently, I’m pursuing a degree in Geobiology at Caltech.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the song “Michelle” by The Beatles, even if it’s a bit narcissistic. But, as I’m learning in the lab, beetles deserve some appreciation beyond their musical counterparts. My research project investigates the way beetle cuticles interact with light.

Nano-scale structures in these cuticles can cause the mesmerizing iridescent and metallic colours seen in several specimens below. These colours remain for centuries, since they are structural and not reliant on degradable pigments. With electron microscopy (on right), I’ll compare the structures corresponding to different colouration across specimens.

We are interested in measuring the light reflecting from the beetles in the near-infrared wavelengths, which are longer than can be seen with the human eye. Using quantitative photography and spectroscopy, we can test our hypothesis that energy absorbed in the near-infrared range could play a role in a beetle’s thermoregulation.

– Michelle Dan

Michelle’s project is helping develop the foundation of our integrated approach to understanding the different mechanisms generating colouration in beetles. We are optimising photographic protocols, as well exploring electron microscopy methods, and tackling the challenges of such small-scale spectroscopy. These techniques will continue to be developed in our ongoing work on beetle colouration.