The fungus gnat fly is a fairly common insect. However, this is not your average insect! More than 40 million years ago, this small gnat got caught in amber and produced an endocast. To better understand the future of robotic eye design, Gavin J Taylor, a biologist working at Lund University turned to X-rays scans.
From the micro-computed-tomography (microCT) scanning – which is similar to a medical CT scan but at much higher resolution – the researcher could see how insect eyes have progressed over the centuries, and by doing so expand our knowledge on optical engineering.
Credit: Gavin J Taylor, RPS
Insects are dependent on visual information they gather to control many features of their behaviour, such as searching for food and navigating. As part of this, they have evolved to attain a good balance between resolution and sensitivity. The compromises seen within the fly’s eye are similar to visualisation systems in currently seen within miniature robotics. Like an insect, as the size of a visual system is reduced, concessions start to be necessary between its effective resolution and sensitivity. This relates to current issues on the downsizing of a camera and video-capture technologies.
The process of capturing the image was not straightforward. The microCT scan produced an image volume, from which a 3D surface showing the edge between the amber and the endocast of the gnat was then extracted using an analysis software called Amira.
The aim was to show the stunning structure within just a single eye. For most people, the gnat is an insect that would simply be ignored. However, what this research, and the photo itself, shows, is that there is more to this creature than meets the eye!