Shrimp eyes may inspire new high-def technology
Special light-sensitive cells in mantis shrimp eyes could one day point the way to new DVD, CD media.
Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 09:29 AM
Do you like that gorgeous high-definition picture on your flat-screen television? If scientists can harness the design skills of Mother Nature, what we see in the future could be dramatically more stunning and vivid. And what should we thank for such inspiration? The mantis shrimps that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
According to a new study from the University of Bristol published recently in Nature Photonics, the mantis shrimp's eyes have the most complex vision systems known to science. They can see in 12 colors (humans see in only three) and can distinguish between different forms of polarized light. From New Scientist,
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. Man-made quarter-wave plates perform this essential function in CD and DVD players and in circular polarizing filters for cameras.
The article goes on to state that the difference is that artificial devices can only distinguish one color of light -- while the mantis shrimp's eyes "work almost perfectly across the whole visible spectrum -- from near-ultra violet to infra-red." That's nearly 100,000 colors! Why the mantis shrimp needs such an insane level of vision is unclear, although researchers suspect it has to do with food and sex.
It's no wonder that biologists often refer to them as “shrimps from Mars.”