Starting in 2001, I switched the focus of my USF laboratory from superconductivity to the electric sense of sharks (and their relatives). These fish use electricity as a type of sixth sense to navigate their murky worlds, including hunting for prey, since living things give off small electric signatures.
Though we never actually swam with sharks, we collected gel from their electrosensitive organs, and we also used computer modeling to imagine what “electric vision” might be like for a shark. Between 2002 and 2010, we published a number of papers.
The science media become excited about some of the work in 2003 primarily because we had a short paper in Nature and because sharks are a gee-whiz kind of animal. You can still catch us occasionally on Shark Week, if they rerun a show called Perfect Predators.
Here are some examples of our work:
- Paper on the basic electric properties of the gel, in Physical Review E.
- Paper about how the shapes of these creatures give them sharper electric vision, in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
- The bottom line of the gel's functional role in the Journal of Comparative Physiology A.
- Paper about a property normally associated with solid state physics, thermoelectricity, appearing in the gel, that appeared in Nature.
- My eventual summary of thermal voltages in a biological gel, after some neuroscientists questioned the results.
- Paper computing the electric vision of a little skate, using its exact physical measurements in PLoS Computational Biology.