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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Sponge Optics

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a deep-sea sponge that creates highly efficient fiber optics.


CURWOOD: Coming up: what we really eat when we eat beef. The case for grazing in the grass. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Scientists have discovered a type of deep sea sponge that creates more efficient fiber optics cables than humans can manufacture. The sponge, nicknamed the "Venus flower basket," lives deep in the Pacific Ocean. The creature has a ring of thin glass fibers at its base that anchors it to the ocean floor. These sponge cables transmit light more efficiently than industrial fibers. They’re also much more flexible than their human-made counterparts which break if bent too far.

Scientists think the fibers concentrate light from deep sea organisms that glow and then channel it around the sponge. As part of the biological process to build these fibers, small amounts of specialized elements such as sodium are added that make light transmission more efficient. And the sponges make all this happen at ambient temperatures while man-made manufacturing takes place at extremely high temperatures. The heat makes it impossible to add these beneficial elements. The next step is to learn how to mimic the sponges’ biological process and create more efficient, flexible fiber optic cables.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Beastie Boys “Son of Neckbone” The In Sound From Way Out (1996) Grand Royal]



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