Shrimp is high-def movies’ hottest star

PENN STATE (US) — A shrimp with a sharp eye is giving researchers insight into how to improve CD, DVD, blu-ray, and holographic technology.

Peacock mantis shrimp are one of only a few animal species that can see circularly polarized light—like that used to create 3-D movies. In fact, some researchers believe the mantis shrimp’s eyes are better over the entire visual spectrum than any existing man-made waveplates.

A waveplate is a transparent slab that can alter the polarization of light because it is birefringent—or exhibits double refraction. The mineral calcite, which is sometimes used as a waveplate, is birefringent.

“We want to change the polarization without affecting the amount of light that gets through,” says Akhlesh Lakhtakia, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State. “We want both transmittance and changing polarization to occur quite independent of frequency. In other words, we do not want to affect the color.”

Waveplates restore polarization in devices that require only one polarization of light, but lose polarization within the process. They can also separate light into separate polarizations to carry specific information and can filter light for optical devices.

Typically, waveplates are made from minerals like quartz, calcite, or birefringent polymers. In some cases, to create the range and transparency required, two different materials are stacked or joined, but this type of construction sometimes delaminates, coming apart at the seams.

Researchers developed a method to produce periodically multilayered materials, similar to the lens in the peacock mantis shrimp, that are suitable for waveplates in the visual light spectrum and cannot delaminate because they are manufactured as one piece.

The research is published online in the journal Nature Communications.

The research team’s waveplate is made of two layers of nanorods that are structurally similar to those in the eye of the peacock mantis shrimp. The researchers begin with tantalum pentoxide, but deposit the two layers using different deposition processes creating a multilayered thin film.

One method produces a layer of needle-like nanorods that are all parallel to each other and all slanted in the same direction. The second method produces nanorods that are also parallel to each other but are upright.

“The two separate layers are needed so that we can play off one against the other to achieve the desired polarization without significantly reducing transmittance over a broad range of frequencies,” says Lakhtakia.

The waveplates consist of a layer of slanted nanorods sandwiched between two layers of upright nanorods. Multiple sandwiches are then stacked to make the required waveplate. Because the size of the nanorods is much less than the wavelengths of visible light, the waveplate is birefringent. Because of the two materials, the waveplate can polarize or repolarize light over the visual spectrum.

The researchers report that “the fabrication technique of the periodically multilayered structures is a workhorse technique in the thin-film industry, does not require expensive lithography equipment and is compatible with … technology commonplace in electronics and optoelectronics industries.”

The research was supported in part by the National Taipei University of Technology and the National Science Council of the Republic of China.

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