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Cornell University researchers use 3D printing to explore how spiders see
Posted by 3DP4E
EDUCATION

ByJaney Davies | Inside3DP

Researchers at Cornell University are using 3D printing technology to study how a certain group of spiders see. Most spiders have relatively poor vision, and have to spin webs in order to catch their prey. Jumping spiders, or Salticidae however, have four pairs of eyes, two at the front and two at the back. This provides them with a unique viewing system which gives them a huge amount of visual information that they use to stalk and hunt their prey. In fact, their vision is almost as good as humans.

In addition, each pair of eyes has a special function. This is pretty amazing when you consider that the typical Salticid’s brain measures about the size of a poppy seed. These pairs of eyes provide an almost perfect 360 degree view around the spider, providing them with a super sharp spatial resolution.

It’s these qualities which have piqued the interest of scientists over the years, and made the Salticidae a fascinating subject. Studying them however, and in particular their eyes has been fraught with difficulty as they are such delicate creatures.

Turning to 3D printing

Many problems occurred in previous trials because of the spider’s delicately balanced internal pressure. These spiders have an enormous internal pressure, and they die instantly if anything ruptures their external cuticle.

But now the research team at Cornell University’s Hoy Lab have turned to 3D printing to help them in handling the spiders. The neurobiologists have managed to build a bespoke 3D harness that holds the spiders perfectly, while the scientists examine them without causing any internal damage.

The harness works with a small drop of wax to hold the spiders, after which a tiny electrode is inserted into the brain to record the visual information.

A first for scientific research

Gil Menda, a postdoctoral student in at the Hoy Lab, designed and built the 3D device which not only safely holds the spiders, but incorporates a method of quickly closing up the small hole left by the tiny electrode in the spider’s head without disrupting the internal pressure.

In previous studies, because researchers were pushed for time, there were few recordings of the spider’s eyes at work. But now, thanks to the harness, the Cornell scientists have been able to record complex neurophysiological readings from the brains of the spiders. Their research has enabled them to understand the previously unseen nonlinear interactions between the spider’s front and back sets of eyes.

The researchers have been using different techniques to provoke a range of responses, including moving objects and ecologically relevant objects among other things so that they can record the relationships between the different sets of eyes.

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