ChEMS Seminar: Biological Light Control: Optical and Photonic Nanostructures in Mantis Shrimp

McDonnell Douglas Engineering Auditorium (MDEA)
Tom Cronin
Department of Biological Sciences
University of Maryland
Baltimore, Maryland

Abstract: In recent years it has become increasingly obvious that animals use extraordinarily inventive biological structures to control the reflection, scattering, and transmission of light. Many animal color patterns involve such structures, and various animals also use them to produce patterns of polarization that appear on their bodies and are visible to conspecifics. In addition, animals employ optically novel devices to tune and augment their visual senses. I will discuss several such adaptations that have been discovered and analyzed in various species of mantis shrimps. These structures have already inspired the fabrication of exotic optical devices that may be technologically useful.

Biography: Thomas W. Cronin received his Ph.D. degree from Duke University in 1979. He then spent three years as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Timothy Goldsmith at Yale University before moving to his current position at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He has published research on animals ranging from sponges to humans, but he works primarily on marine invertebrate animals. He has been a AAAS Fellow since 2002 and is also a fellow of the International Society for Neuroethology. He recently co-authored a book on his research area, Visual Ecology.

Cronin’s laboratory studies the visual physiology of invertebrates, especially of marine and estuarine crustaceans. Most of Tom’s recent work has been with the mantis shrimps, or stomatopods, a unique group of tropical crustaceans that have extremely complicated behavior and perhaps the most unusual eyes ever evolved. He works with their color vision systems (they have up to 16 spectral channels), their photic environments, their systems of color communication, the dynamics of their photoreceptor cells, and their ocular movements and control systems. In recent years, his group has initiated a study of the molecular genetics of their opsins, the proteins that underlie the detection of light. They hope to learn how the photoreceptors evolved and how their visual proteins are specialized for color vision and for seeing the polarized-light signals that many species of mantis shrimps produce.

The group’s lab motto is “If it has eyes, we can study it!”. In the last 10 years, they have published papers on vision in squids, butterflies, fiddler crabs, cuttlefish, primates, dolphins, orioles, reef fishes, sponges, poison-dart frogs, fireflies, octopus, deep-sea crabs, whooping cranes, and (of course) mantis shrimp, and the list goes on . . .

Hosted by: Professor Alon Gorodetsky