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Professor Nicholas Roberts

Detection of light and colour in nature

My research is focused on investigating optical mechanisms that underlie sensory abilities such as polarization vision and the evolution of the bio-optics of signaling and photoreception.

My work adopts a broad intra- and inter-disciplinary approach, using a combination of physics based techniques (microspectrophotometry, laser tweezing, optical modelling and X-ray scattering) and behavioural studies (operant conditioning and novel optomotor techniques). Ultimately, I want to understand how visual information helps guide aspects of animal behaviour.

Research keywords

  • polarisation vision
  • bio-optics
  • neuroethology

Research methods

  • behavioural techniques
  • microspectrophotometry
  • laser tweezing
  • optical modelling
  • X-ray scattering

Research equipment

  • microspectrophotometer
  • digital holographic microscope
  • polarization video displays
  • polarization video camera

Research findings

  • Polarization vision.
  • Vision in the deep sea – how photoreceptors work under pressure.
  • The physiological optics of rods and cones.
  • Animals that manipulate polarized light.
  • The evolution of silver reflectors.
  • The evolution of polarization signals.
  • Optics of oil droplets.


  • Prof Thomas Cronin (UMBC)
  • Prof Justin Marshall (Uni Queensland)
  • Prof Joe Corbo (WUSTL)
  • Prof Almut Kelber (Lund)