The mantis shrimps in the study are found on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and have the most complex vision systems known to science. They can see in twelve colours (humans see in only three) and can distinguish between different forms of polarized light.
Special light-sensitive cells in mantis shrimp eyes act as quarter-wave plates – which can rotate the plane of the oscillations (the polarization) of a light wave as it travels through it. This capability makes it possible for mantis shrimps to convert linearly polarized light to circularly polarized light and vice versa. Manmade quarter-wave plates perform this essential function in CD and DVD players and in circular polarizing filters for cameras.
However, these artificial devices only tend to work well for one colour of light while the natural mechanism in the mantis shrimp's eyes works almost perfectly across the whole visible spectrum – from near-ultra violet to infra-red.
Dr Nicholas Roberts, lead author of the Nature Photonics paper said: "Our work reveals for the first time the unique design and mechanism of the quarter-wave plate in the mantis shrimp's eye. It really is exceptional – out-performing anything we humans have so far been able to create."
Exactly why the mantis shrimp needs such exquisite sensitivity to circularly polarized light isn't clear. However, polarization vision is used by animals for sexual signalling or secret communication that avoids the attention of other animals, especially predators. It could also assist in the finding and catching of prey by improving the clarity of images underwater. If this mechanism in the mantis shrimp provides an evolutionary advantage, it would be easily selected for as it only requires small changes to existing properties of the cell in the eye.
"What's particularly exciting is how beautifully simple it is," Dr Roberts continued. "This natural mechanism, comprised of cell membranes rolled into tubes, completely outperforms synthetic designs.
"It could help us make better optical devices in the future using liquid crystals that have been chemically engineered to mimic the properties of the cells in the mantis shrimp's eye."
This wouldn't be the first time humans have looked to the natural world for new ideas, for example the lobster's compound eye recently inspired the design of an X-ray detector for an astronomical telescope.
The mantis shrimp research was conducted at the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences in collaboration with colleagues at UMBC, USA and the University of Queensland, Australia.
Hannah Johnson | EurekAlert!
Electrocatalysis can advance green transition
23.01.2017 | Technical University of Denmark
Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin
23.01.2017 | Ferdinand-Braun-Institut Leibniz-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine
23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.01.2017 | Process Engineering