I grew up in a small town east of Berlin, Germany. After completing my German ‘Abitur’ (equivalent of high school), I went to the UK for my undergraduate studies. I completed a BSc in Zoology (1st Class) at the University of Sheffield in 1998. My undergraduate advisor was John Messenger, who introduced me to the fascinating world of sensory biology, and in particular to the world of cephalopods.
The same year, I started my PhD working with Sir Eric Denton FRS at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK; affiliated with the University of Sheffield, where John Messenger remained my advisor. The focus of my research was on the properties of reflective cells (iridophores) in squid skin. During this time I was funded by the Gottlieb-Daimler und Karl-Benz Stiftung, Germany. I completed my PhD at the end of 2001.
In 2002, funded by a Royal Society Post-doctoral Fellowship, I went to work with Justin Marshall at the Vision Touch and Hearing Research Centre (VTHRC; now Queensland Brain Institute) in Brisbane, Australia. I worked on a variety of projects, including reflective properties of fish and cephalopod iridophores and bird feathers. From 2003 to 2004, I was a Post-doctoral fellow in Kerstin Fritsches’ laboratory (also at the VTHRC in Brisbane), working on vision in green turtles.
I’ve been at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole since 2004. From 2004 to 2005, I worked as a Post-doctoral fellow in Roger Hanlon’s group, focusing on camouflage and mechanisms of skin color and pattern changes in cephalopods. From 2005 to 2010, I was a Research Associate; and since 2010, I’ve been an Assistant Research Scientist at the MBL.
My research is in the area of animal sensory ecology. I’m particularly interested in the mechanisms and functions of camouflage and communication, as well as visual ecology, focusing on the relationship between structure and function of animal eyes. I have worked on a variety of animals, including cephalopods, fish, marine turtles and birds, and have published a considerable number of papers that quantify the optical, ultrastructural and physiological properties of pigments and structural reflectors in cephalopods and fish. This work is widely recognized for its role in elucidating the mechanisms of dynamic colour change in cephalopods. The interdisciplinary nature of my research has promoted considerable interest from researchers in a number of fields outside of biology, including materials science and optical engineering.
I’m currently working on a project on animal pupils, a collaboration with Dan-Eric Nilsson (Lund, Sweden) that began in 2006, when we started working on the characteristic W-shaped pupil in cuttlefish. There are a number of animals (aquatic and terrestrial) that have very elaborate pupil shapes with complex shapes, frills and protuberances, and my current research aims to figure out what their optical functions are.
I’ve been working on cephalopod camouflage (mechanisms of color/pattern change and behavior) since my PhD. Cephalopod skin contains a number of different structures that are involved in color change. The most superficial layer of the skin is densely packed with chromatophores (pigment containing organs) that are under neural control. In addition to chromatophores, there are different types of light reflectors, such as leucophores, which are broadband reflectors, and iridophores, which reflect light by structural interference.
Shane Jinson, Research Assistant I