Lobsters and Fish Inspire Eyes, according to reports in ScienceDaily 15 April 2016 and PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517953113. Anyone who has tried to take a photo or use a surveillance camera at night is frustrated by the limitations of man-made optical devices for seeing in low light conditions. Most attempts to overcome these limitations involve electronically enhancing the captured images. Scientists and engineers at University of Wisconsin-Madison have built a camera capable of vision in very low light. According to ScienceDaily, “They found inspiration for the strategy from two aquatic animals that evolved different strategies to survive and see in murky waters”.

The scientists wrote in their report: “In pursuit of a groundbreaking optical approach to photosensitivity enhancement, we look to nature for inspiration”. Their inspiration came from elephantnose fish and lobsters. The elephantnose fish has a retina composed of thousands of tiny crystal cups that collect and intensify light. Inspired by this structure, the UW-Madison researchers constructed an array of thousands of tiny parabolic mirrors, which they then arranged across the surface of a uniform hemispherical dome. This arrangement was inspired by the structure of lobster eyes. Lobster eyes have a structure known as superposition compound eyes, which concentrates incoming light to individual spots.

The researchers combined the optics of these two very different creatures which live in low light habitats, but are able to see well. They called their device a “bioinspired all-optical photosensitivity enhancer”.

Having demonstrated that their device works in very low light conditions the UW-Madison engineers are working on refining the manufacture of the device which could be used in many low-light situations, from keyhole surgery to searching for hidden bombs. Hongrui Jiang, professor of electrical and computer and biomedical engineering at UW-Madison explained: “It has always been very hard to make artificial superposition compound eyes because the curvature and alignment need to be absolutely perfect. Even the slightest misalignment can throw off the entire system”.


Editorial Comment: Optical engineering involves some of the most precision engineering that humans have come up with, but every different optical device we have come up with is found in the living world. Therefore, studying the eyes of living creatures such as lobsters and fish is a useful and intelligent thing to do in order to learn about optical devices. However, it is not intelligent to then give the credit to mindless “nature” or to ‘random evolution’. To do this is to ascribe plan, purpose and design to the mindlessness of matter and energy.

Simply being in a dark murky environment will never make precisely aligned structures needed for low-light eyes to function. Natural selection cannot achieve precision engineering. It simply eliminates creatures with less precise eyes from such an environment.

We would also caution anyone using this and other examples of bio-inspiration as evidence for “intelligent design” unless you are prepared to deal with the issue of who is the designer. Design without a designer is just as much a position of deliberate ignorance as pretending there is no evidence for creative design, then taking inspiration from the living world to create precision devices such as the low-light optics described here. (Ref. engineering, design, optic, ichthyology, crustaceans)

Evidence News vol. 16, No.8
4 May 2016
Creation Research Australia