Who's guiding the way to improved DVD and CD players? The mantis shrimp, a native to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
The mantis shrimp possess the most complex vision systems known to science as they have the ability to see in 12 colours and can distinguish between different forms of polarized light. Humans only see in three colours.
The University press release says
the shrimps’ eyes have light-sensitive cells which act as quarter-wave plates. The plates are able to rotate the plane of the oscillations (the polarization) of a light wave as it travels through it.
This ability means the shrimp can to convert linearly polarized light to circularly polarized light and vice versa.
CD and DVD players and circular polarizing filters for cameras use man made quarter-wave plates to perform this function.
The mantis shrimp’s eyes works almost perfectly across the whole visible spectrum – from near-ultra violet to infra-red while the artificial devices only tend to work well for one colour of light.
Dr Nicholas Roberts, lead author of the Nature Photonics paper, said in the University press release: “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.”
It is not known why the mantis shrimp needs such exquisite sensitivity to circularly polarized light.
It is known animals use polarization vision for sexual signaling or secret communication that avoids the attention of other animals, especially predators. Polarization vision may also assist in the finding and catching of prey by improving the clarity of images underwater.
“What’s particularly exciting is how beautifully simple it is,” 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.”
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.