The exquisite designs of the organisms on Earth have served as inspiration to countless engineers and scientists. Important inventions, such as Velcro or the airplane, owe their inceptions to those who first observed these qualities in God’s handiwork and then sought to mimic these abilities. Although an ancient practice, biomimetics has grown in modern times as a form of reverse engineering. In practice, designs or processes in nature are studied for the purpose of finding practical applications and/or with the hope of designing artificial imitations. Recently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has funded biomimetic research that led to the development of an imaging device that can literally see through walls.

The unique design of the eye of the lobster is one such example that has been intensely studied to help understand how it allows some organisms to see in low light and murky waters. Rather than bending (refracting) the light to focus the image on the retina, several of the long-bodied decapod crustaceans (shrimps, prawns, crayfish and lobsters) possess reflecting compound eyes. Unlike the more common compound eyes of insects, which have hexagonal facets, the lobster eye design incorporates square facets that are arranged radially to form an optic array with a 180° field of view. The geometric assemblage of facets has all of the hallmarks of intelligent design and defies attempts to explain it through natural mechanisms.

Simply put, these facets are tiny square-shaped tubes with walls that act as mirrors to reflect the incoming light. The walls of each facet are perfectly aligned so that the reflected light is flawlessly focused toward the receptor layer so that they all merge at the same point (see diagram). The design creates an intensified, superpositioned image because the light from many facets combines to form a single image. As many as 3,000 reflective facets are found in some species such as the Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus), and increases in sensitivity up to 1,000-fold above that of the more common apposition type eye (where light remains within a single facet/ommatidium). Truly amazing!….

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