Ancient Trilobites Had the Solution to Focusing Problems

Ancient Trilobites Had the Solution to Focusing Problems
Trilobite – Dalmanites limulurus

Most of us have faced the problem of focus when taking a picture or looking through binoculars. If you focus on something close to you, things in the distance are out of focus and visa-versa. Historians credit Benjamin Franklin with inventing bifocals to solve this problem, but researchers have found that ancient trilobites had the solution to focusing problems long before him.

Trilobites were sea creatures that needed to focus on prey up close without losing sight of predators approaching. Studies of fossils of a trilobite known as Dalmanitina socialis have led scientists to create a new camera lens. The trilobite’s eye was so well-designed that an object an inch away and another a mile away would both be in perfect focus. Amit Agrawal of the National Institute of Standards and Technology wrote, “To the best of our knowledge, this type of compound-eye visual system is unique…in contrast to the single focal vision system present in all-known living arthropods that exist today.”

The trilobite eye had two concentric lenses that could focus near and far at the same time. Based on that design, Agrawal and his team developed a “spin-multiplexed bifocal metalens array capable of capturing high-resolution light-field images over a record depth-of-field ranging from centimeter to kilometer scale.” The metalens is a flat lens made up of millions of rectangular nanopillars that bend light differently depending on their shape, size, and arrangement. A computer algorithm brings these multiple images into a single picture with all objects in focus.

Potential applications of this new technology are many and varied. For example, Metalenses could be used for 3-D photography, self-driving cars, and Mars rovers. Ancient trilobites had the solution to focusing problems, and scientists date these creatures to some 400 million years ago. Human technology and engineering are just now learning to mimic what the Creator did in forming the trilobite eye. Everywhere we look in the natural world, we see that a wonder-working hand has gone before, and the trilobite is one more example.

— John N. Clayton © 2022

References: Science News for June 4, 2022 page 12 and Nature Communications April 19, 2022.