01 June 2008

Amazing vision

A Swiss marine biologist and an Australian quantum physicist have found that a species of shrimp from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, can see a world invisible to all other animals.

Dr Sonja Kleinlogel and Professor Andrew White have shown that mantis shrimp not only have the ability to see colours from the ultraviolet through to the infrared, but have optimal polarisation vision -- a first for any animal and a capability that humanity has only achieved in the last decade using fast computer technology.

They can move each eye independently, they see the world in 11 or 12 primary colours as opposed to our humble three.

Most animals can tell how fast the electric field in a light wave is oscillating, which is perceived as colour. (Blue light oscillates faster than green, which is faster than red). The direction of the oscillation is known as polarisation.

The two scientists have shown that shrimp of the species Gonodactylus smithii have eyes that simultaneously measure four linear and two circular polarisations, enabling them to determine both the direction of the oscillation, as well as how polarised the light is.

Each eye measures the six polarisation components that are precisely required for optimal polarisation vision. In fact, the physics we used to understand what was going on is the same physics that we use in quantum computing for optimal storage of information."
Colleagues at The University of Queensland have recently found a related species where the males reflect circular polarisation from their bodies, and hypothesized that circular polarisation vision is used for sexual signalling.
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Human perception limit (Updated 2013-01)
Only for humans. ...

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