2020 winners

Professor Thomas Cronin
Professor Justin Marshall

For their discovery of new visual mechanisms for the perception of colour and of circular polarisation.

Presented by The Right Honourable the Lord Darzi of Denham at the Royal College of Physicians on 20 January 2020.

The 2020 Rank Prize for Optoelectronics recognises this breakthrough contribution to our understanding of colour vision and polarisation vision.

For over 30 years Professors Marshall and Cronin have researched the eyes of marine animals, most famously the mantis shrimp. Their collaboration has given us three important discoveries: a new form of colour vision that allows rapid recognition, a new mode of vision that uses circularly polarised light, and a new optical mechanism that senses circular polarisation.

Their work has shifted the understanding of vision that we’ve held for two centuries by revealing the most complicated photoreceptor arrays in the animal kingdom. In the mantis shrimp they found 14 types of photoreceptor, providing ten channels for wavelength analysis and four for polarisation. The shrimp moves its eye to scan this multichannel analyser across its field of vision, picking up exceptionally detailed information on wavelength and polarisation at many locations.

Professors Marshall and Cronin and their teams are working with physicists and engineers to develop new visual devices and systems.

This collaboration has shown us that vision is richer and more versatile than previously thought and is motivating other researchers to explore a wider variety of animals and eye types.

Donal Bradley Chair, optoelectronics committee

Professor Justin Marshall is Group Leader of the Sensory Neurobiology Group, a division of the Queensland Brain Institute, and Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland.

Learn more about Professor Justin Marshall’s work.

Professor Thomas Cronin is Head of the Cronin Lab and Professor of Biological Sciences at the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Learn more about Professor Thomas Cronin’s work.