Posted by on June 10, 2005 at 17:45:47:
The skeletons of brittlestars, which are sea creatures related to starfish and sea urchins, contain thousands of tiny lenses that collectively form a single, distributed eye. This enables brittlestars to escape predators and distinguish between night and day. Besides having unusual optical properties and being very small—each is just one-twentieth of a millimetre in diameter—the lenses have another trick of particular relevance to micro-optical systems. Although the lenses are fixed in shape, they are connected via a network of fluid-filled channels, containing a light-absorbing pigment. The creature can vary the contrast of the lenses by controlling this fluid. The same idea can be applied in man-made lenses, says Dr Aizenberg. “These are made from silicon and so cannot change their properties,” she says. But by copying the brittlestar's fluidic system, she has been able to make biomimetic lens arrays with the same flexibility.
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