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Professor Nicholas Roberts

Professor Nicholas Roberts

Professor Nicholas Roberts
MPhys (Manc.), PhD(Manc.)

Professor of Sensory Ecology

Area of research

Detection of light and colour in nature

Office Life Sciences: 103
Life Sciences Building,
24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 39 41200


My research is focused on investigating optical mechanisms that underlie sensory abilities such as polarization vision and the evolution of the bio-optics of signaling and photoreception.

My work adopts a broad intra- and inter-disciplinary approach, using a combination of physics based techniques (microspectrophotometry, laser tweezing, optical modelling and X-ray scattering) and behavioural studies (operant conditioning and novel optomotor techniques). Ultimately, I want to understand how visual information helps guide aspects of animal behaviour.


I gained my first degree, an MPhys in Physics and Astrophysics, in 1999 at the University of Manchester. I stayed on in Manchester and completed a PhD in the Liquid Crystal Physics Group with Prof Helen Gleeson in 2003. The focus of my work was on optical studies of model biological liquid crystal systems relating to vertebrate photoreceptors. During my PhD, I conducted much of my biological research at University of Victoria, BC, Canada. After a year as a post-doc back in Manchester, I was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Early Career fellowship to conduct research on vertebrate polarization vision. In 2006, I was awarded an EPSRC Life Science Interface fellowship to work on optical design in vertebrate and invertebrate visual systems, splitting my time between the new Photon Science Institute at Manchester and Queens University in Canada. In Oct 2009, I started a 5 year BBSRC David Philips Fellowship based in the Ecology of Vision Group here at Bristol.

Activities / Findings

  • Polarization vision.
  • Vision in the deep sea – how photoreceptors work under pressure.
  • The physiological optics of rods and cones.
  • Animals that manipulate polarized light.
  • The evolution of silver reflectors.
  • The evolution of polarization signals.
  • Optics of oil droplets.


  • polarisation vision
  • bio-optics
  • neuroethology


  • behavioural techniques
  • microspectrophotometry
  • laser tweezing
  • optical modelling
  • X-ray scattering

Selected publications

Read more >

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Networks & contacts

  • Prof Thomas Cronin (UMBC)
  • Prof Justin Marshall (Uni Queensland)
  • Prof Joe Corbo (WUSTL)
  • Prof Almut Kelber (Lund)

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