Research highlight

Mantis shrimp surprise

Nature Photonics

October 26, 2009

By emulating the eyes of mantis shrimp ― which are naturally tuned to see different polarizations of light ― scientists may be able to improve the performance of man-made polarization optics. A study into the eyes of mantis shrimp, published online this week in Nature Photonics, provides a starting ground for such designs and in principle could benefit future data storage systems, such as CDs and DVDs, and data projectors.

Wave plates are important optical components that are used to change the polarization of light and exploited in many forms of optical equipment. The problem is that designing wave plates to work for many different colours of light ― which correlate to different wavelengths ― rather than for a single colour is exceptionally difficult.

Nicholas Roberts and colleagues discovered that the wave plate in the mantis shrimp's eye has an elegant design which includes an incredible level of achromaticity, meaning that it performs well at all visible wavelengths, ranging from blue to red ― a task that has eluded man-made designs. ?The wave plate is formed in the photoreceptors in the mantis shrimp's eye, which contain a densely packed bundle of specially designed tubes. The study reveals that it is this specific geometry and material of the tubes that lead to the incredible performance of the wave plate.

The researchers hope that optical designers will now be able to copy the design to create man-made wave plates with much better performance than currently available.

doi: 10.1038/nphoton.2009.189

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