The Light in The Dark: Bioluminescence

Imagine standing on the deck of a ship out in the open ocean at night, in wonder at the twinkling stars. In the inky black water below you may also notice blinking, flashing lights, but it is not a reflection of the stars above. These bright displays are made by marine organisms via bioluminescence, a biological reaction that releases light. Researchers have found that as many as 3 out of every 4 species in the open ocean are capable of bioluminescence. It turns out that bioluminescence is a crucial communication tool for the majority of marine organisms, big or small.

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The Structure of Color

When I was young I learned that the colors I saw in the world were due to materials absorbing certain wavelengths of light and reflecting others. Leaves appear green because the chlorophyll in plant cells absorbs blue and red light and reflects green. While this holds true for most natural materials, it turns out that nature has more than one way of making color. Many of the most striking colors found in nature often occur through the development of structural coloration. For instance, the absurdly bright colors of butterfly wings, beetle scales, day gecko skin, bird feathers and even certain berries all come from structural color.

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I Shall Call Him Squishy: The Rise of Soft Robotics

In popular culture, biologically-inspired robots play a sinister role. Movies like Blade Runner and The Terminator depict scenes of a humanoid faces split open to reveal violently grinning machines underneath. Such stories often portray machines in a dire “us vs. them” scenario. However, real life robots can have a much softer side. Taking inspiration from creatures such as jellyfish, rays, and octopuses, scientists are developing soft robots that can respond to different environments and can augment human capabilities.

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Treasured Gold: Citrus Diversity

An hour west of Los Angeles, the University of California, Riverside safeguards a golden treasure. Neat rows of green trees carry bright, vibrant medallions in many shades of yellow and orange. The Citrus Variety Collection, curated by Tracy Kahn, is a 22.3 acre orchard whose riches are not precious metals, but delicious, tangy fruit.

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