Cool Science Stories!

PhysOrg.Com has a couple of really cool science stories, both about vision.

The first, The eyes have it for perfect predator looks at recent research on the visual acuity of jumping spiders. Researchers covered two out of three pairs of eyes in jumping spiders to test the visual acuity in the third pair:

“We believe this pair of eyes could have been underestimated by scientists in the past, and may be the most versatile element of their visual system, providing both spatial acuity and motion detection.

“It’s astonishing that these animals, which have a body length of just 12 millimetres and a brain a fraction of the size of a honeybee’s, have developed such a sophisticated visual system covering almost 360 degrees with such high resolution,” he added.

“They divvy up different visual tasks, such as motion detection or high acuity detail analysis across the various sets of eyes, and it is likely that this modular approach helps the spider to handle the computational demands of vision.”

The second, Sharp-eyed robins can see magnetic fields looks at the ability of robins to see magnetic fields:

Numerous studies have been carried out on the ability of birds to sense magnetic fields since the phenomenon was first discovered in 1968 in the European robin. These studies had already revealed that the sense depends on light and that it involves the right eye and the left side of the brain, but the details were still unclear.

The most likely molecules involved in the sensing of magnetic fields are thought to be cryptochrome and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD), which are found in the light-sensitive cells in the retina. When struck by blue light, cryptochrome and FAD both shift into an active state in which each molecule has an unpaired electron, creating a “radical pair.” The presence of magnetic fields affects the time it takes for the radical pair molecules to revert to their inactive state.

The research in question set out to test this and the the results of the study (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2010.05.070) tend to support the hypothesis.

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