As science explores the deepest parts of the oceans, new discoveries seem to come at a bewildering rate. The conditions deep in the ocean are very harsh — cold temperatures, limited amounts of light or any other kind of energy, and massive pressures. To design anything that can exist in this harsh, alien world is a challenge, and we are just now beginning to design equipment able to travel deep in the ocean and see what is there.

Most animals see by having lenses that bring light to a focus on the retina of the eye where specialized cells carry the message to the brain. There are a number of problems with lenses. They can only look straight ahead of the animal, they are thick and bulky, and there is always a loss of energy and intensity as the light passes through the lens. Dr. Julian Partridge at the University of Bristol in England has studied an unusual fish called the brownsnout spookfish during a deep sea observing tour. The fish has two segments to its eyes. The lenses of the fish are set so as to see above the fish, and there are mirrors in the eye enabling the fish to see below it and to the sides.

Concave mirrors are used in most large telescopes. They have great light gathering ability, can handle unusual angles of light, and do not lose as much light energy as lenses. In the spookfish, organic crystals that have high reflectivity line the eye and are arranged so that their focal point is on the retina. This is a highly sophisticated design, and gives the fish visual acuity not seen in other forms of life. The fish is being studied to see how we can use the advantages of this system in our own designs.

This is just one more of a long series of cases where scientists and engineers look at the design God has built into living things so that we can imitate it to produce something that can benefit mankind.

Reference: Popular Science, April 2009, pages 10 –11.

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