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.

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

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David 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. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs 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. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • starwaterlily

    I don’t think they should kill those poor little shrimpies just to improve technology. I mean, they are still beings, aren’t they? Do, you wouldn’t like it either if you were the shrimps. take a moment to imagine yourself as one of the shrimps. Ask yourself these questions. What would happen to me? Is this fair? Shrimps may be a small thing to waste time over but still, each human is a being that kills millions of others in a lifetime. Is this justice? And this isn’t only shrimps, think rabbit, dolphin,cheetah, dog, all your favorite animals. i don’t like this one bit.
    P.S.shrimp doesn’t really taste good (in my opinion). It is also kind of gross biting off the head.

  • Flagrante Delicto

    If humans can only see in three colors, then how do they know the “shrimp” see in 12?

  • Ben

    The mantis shrimp has the punching force of a .22 caliber bullet, with regards to “starwaterlily”, these are not THAT harmless, some species have been dubbed thumbsplitters, and while I agree that it is a shame to cull some for science, nowadays nearly WHATEVER science steps through it is followed by countless ethical issues or people shouting “save the XXXX”, regardless of the species. You dont mind if PLANTS were experimented on, do you? They are living organisms that respire, reproduce and populate a good portion of the planet.

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