Next generation DVDs inspired the humble Mantis shrimp

Mantis shrimps, in a study from the University of Bristol published in Nature Photonics, 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 and can distinguish between different forms of polarized light, the human eye can see in only three colours.

Special light-sensitive cells in mantis shrimp eyes act as quarter-wave plates which can rotate the plane of the oscillations or polarisation, of a light wave as it travels through its eye. This is what 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. While man made systems only work well for one colour of light, the natural mechanism in the mantis shrimp’s eyes works almost perfectly across the whole visible spectrum – from near-ultra violet to infra-red.

The discovery 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.

From an original artcile by Hannah Johnson of the University of Bristol

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