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A biological quarter-wave retarder with excellent achromaticity in the visible wavelength region


Animals make use of a wealth of optical physics to control and manipulate light, for example, in creating reflective animal colouration1,2,3 and polarized light signals4. Their precise optics often surpass equivalent man-made optical devices in both sophistication and efficiency5. Here, we report a biophysical mechanism that creates a natural full-visible-range achromatic quarter-wave retarder in the eye of a stomatopod crustacean. Analogous, man-made retardation devices are important optical components, used in both scientific research and commercial applications for controlling polarized light. Typical synthetic retarders are not achromatic, and more elaborate designs, such as, multilayer subwavelength gratings or bicrystalline constructions, only achieve partial wavelength independence6. In this work, we use both experimental measurements and theoretical modelling of the photoreceptor structure to illustrate how a novel interplay of intrinsic and form birefringence results in a natural achromatic optic that significantly outperforms current man-made optical devices.

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Figure 1: The eye of a stomatopod crustacean.
Figure 2: Achromatic conversion of linearly to circularly polarized light by the R8 cell.
Figure 3: Minimized refractive index and corresponding birefringence for the ideal Odontodactylus scyllarus R8 quarter-wave retarder in Fig. 2.
Figure 4: Comparative retardation between two man-made quarter-wave retarders and the R8 cell.


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This work was supported by grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development, the Australian Research Council and the National Science Foundation.

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All authors contributed extensively to all aspects of the work presented in this paper.

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Correspondence to N. W. Roberts.

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Roberts, N., Chiou, TH., Marshall, N. et al. A biological quarter-wave retarder with excellent achromaticity in the visible wavelength region. Nature Photon 3, 641–644 (2009).

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