A new discovery about how mantis shrimp process light could give rise to new and more powerful consumer electronics, according to a new study. Mantis shrimp possess the animal kingdom’s most complicated eyes, capable of distinguishing between 100,000 colors — 10 times as many as humans — and seeing circular polarized light, or CPL, which can’t be detected by any other creature [Wired.com]. Circular polarized light is one of two forms of polarized light, or light waves that travel in a specific plane.
The specialized CPL detecting cells in shrimp eye are similar to the optical detectors found in DVD players; each can convert polarized light into other forms so it can be stored or processed. However, shrimp eyes can do this with all colors of circular polarized light across the spectrum, according to the study in Nature Photonics. The detectors in DVD and CD players can only recognize circular polarized light in a few colors. The research team thinks that in the future, optics devices might be beefed up by chemically engineered crystals that could mimic the light polarizing cells of the mantis shrimp eye.
Mantis shrimp eyes are composed of hundreds of compartments, each with a photoreceptor that can detect visible light and turn it into a signal the brain can read. But … mantis shrimp also have a special group of photoreceptors, known as R8 cells, which can also detect UV and polarized light [ABC News]. The mantis shrimp is one of the few animals that reflects circular polarized light off its skin; since other shrimp can see that reflected light, it serves a communication function. Says lead researcher Justin Marshall: “They’re talking to each other with a secret light channel” [ABC News].
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Image: flickr / CybersamX