NYTimes has a fascinating story with two elements to it: how ideas can lead to innovation, and how nature is far ahead of our science.
While in San Francisco for a scientific conference last year, Dr. Joanna Aizenberg, a research scientist at Bell Labs and senior author of the Nature paper, wandered through shops looking at shells and other collectibles from the sea.
In one shop she spotted a Venus’ flower basket sponge, a creature with an intricate hollow latticework skeleton that lives thousands of feet deep in the western Pacific Ocean. What caught her eye was a ring of glassy filaments at the sponge’s base that once tied it to the ocean floor. She bought the sponge.
Back at the laboratory, Dr. Aizenberg and colleagues from Bell Labs, Tel Aviv University and OFS, a Lucent spinoff, discovered that the filaments, about the length and thickness of hair, also carry light. While other researchers discovered a few years ago light-carrying fibers in a sponge off Antarctica, the fibers of the Venus’ flower basket sponge are exceptional because their structure is “strikingly similar” to those of commercial optical fibers that ferry pulses of light in telecommunication systems, Dr. Aizenberg said.
“Nature came up with exactly the same design millions of years ago,” she said. “I would be surprised if it’s accidental.”
The fibers gather the light from luminescent organisms in the depths and give the sponge a slight glow. “It will act as a fiber optical lamp,” Dr. Aizenberg said.