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Shrimp eyes could help create a new digital storage format

By James G. Robertson, National Geographic Digital Media Mantis shrimp eyes could be the inspiration behind a new way to store and read digital data, say scientists from the University of Bristol who have studied the complex vision system of the stromatopod, which is not really a shrimp. The mantis shrimp Odontodactylus scyllarus. Photo courtesy...

By James G. Robertson, National Geographic Digital Media

Mantis shrimp eyes could be the inspiration behind a new way to store and read digital data, say scientists from the University of Bristol who have studied the complex vision system of the stromatopod, which is not really a shrimp.

Mantis_shrimp_picture.jpgThe mantis shrimp Odontodactylus scyllarus.

Photo courtesy of Roy Caldwell, University of California at Berkeley

The mantis shrimp can see far beyond what humans are capable of, including ultraviolet, infrared and circularly polarized light. It also sees in 12 colors, as opposed to the cells in human eyes that only detect three colors.

The researchers have determined the mechanism that the shrimp uses to convert polarized light, which they say works better than man-made polarizing filters because it works across most of the spectrum, while man-made filters usually only work for one wavelength of light.

CD and DVD players use a single wavelength of circularly polarized laser light to read the data on a disc.  New filters developed from the shrimp’s eyes could allow players to use more than one reading laser, allowing more data to be packed onto a single disc.

Why the shrimp need to see in so many colors and different polarizations is unknown, but their eyes could help them find prey (polarized filters are used on cameras to cut through reflections), or signal to each other secretly without predators noticing.

Related: “Weird Beastie” Shrimp Have Super-Vision

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn