Skip to main content

Podcast: Hiding in the Light

Photo by Matthew Hoelscher
This week on the podcast I chat with Dr. Nicholas Roberts, a former physicist who now teaches in the biology department at the University of Bristol in the UK. Roberts belongs to the Visual Ecology Laboratory, where he and his colleagues try to understand how animals see the world, and how visual information influences how they behave.

Recently, Dr. Roberts and his colleagues solved a decades-old puzzle about how silvery fish like herring and sardines get their mirror-like skin. The basic mechanism behind this camouflage technique has been known for sometime (the secret is layers of guanine crystals in the fish's skin). But according to some basic physics principles, the silvery fish are too silvery: there are physical limits to how much light a normal reflective surface can reflect. The fish skins go beyond those limits and scientists couldn't explain why (humans have made artificial reflectors that also go beyond these limits, but with different techniques than those in the fish skin, and only in the past 10 years). Roberts and his team have found the secret of the flashy fish skin, and the new results may find their way into man-made reflectors and other optical technologies.


Popular Posts

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

Ask a Physicist: Phone Flash Sharpie Shock!

Lexie and Xavier, from Orlando, FL want to know: "What's going on in this video ? Our science teacher claims that the pain comes from a small electrical shock, but we believe that this is due to the absorption of light. Please help us resolve this dispute!"

The Science of Ice Cream: Part One

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream. (We've since updated this article to include the science behind vegan ice cream. To learn more about ice cream science, check out The Science of Ice Cream, Redux ) Image Credit: St0rmz via Flickr Over at Physics@Home there's an easy recipe for homemade ice cream. But what kind of milk should you use to make ice cream? And do you really need to chill the ice cream base before making it? Why do ice cream recipes always call for salt on ice?