October 26, 2009

Shrimp Eyes Could Inspire New DVD Players

The next generation of optical devices could borrow inspiration from the spectacular eyes of the mantis shrimp.

Reporting in Nature Photonics, researchers from the University of Bristol said mantis shrimps from the Australia's Great Barrier Reef have the most complex eyes known to man.

The shrimp's eyes can see in twelve colors and distinguish between different forms of polarized light.

By comparison, humans can only see in three colors.

Researchers said the marine crustaceans' have special light-sensitive cells that act as quarter-wave plates that can rotate the plane of oscillations of a light wave.

Synthetic quarter-wave plates are used in CD and DVD players as well as in circular polarizing filters for cameras. However, man made devices only work with one color, while the shrimp's eye can work perfectly across the entire spectrum.

"Our work reveals for the first time the unique design and mechanism of the quarter-wave plate in the mantis shrimp's eye," said Dr Nicholas Roberts, lead author of the study.

"It really is exceptional "“ out-performing anything we humans have so far been able to create."

"What's particularly exciting is how beautifully simple it is," said Roberts. "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."


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