Justin Marshall (neuroscientist)

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Professor Justin Marshall
Professor Justin Marshall

Nicholas Justin Marshall (born 1962) is a British-Australian neuroscientist-ecologist whose research focuses on decoding how animals use color to communicate. He is known for discovering the most complex animal visual system known of any organism.[1] – that of the mantis shrimp, which has 12 color channels.

Education and early life[edit]

Marshall's parents were both marine scientists;[2] his father was Her Majesty’s Curator of Fish at the British Museum of Natural History, and his mother was a natural history illustrator of marine organisms.[3] His early exposure as a child to marine animals and environments led to his love of marine biology.

Marshall attended high school in Cambridge and studied a Bachelor of Science in zoology, graduating with 1st class honors from the University of Sussex, UK in 1985. He completed his PhD in the neurobiology of vision in mantis shrimps at the University of Sussex, UK in 1996.

Career and research[edit]

Marshall’s research focuses on neuroethology, understanding how animals perceive their environment, and also how the brains and sensory systems of animals in the real world have been shaped by their environment and needs, particularly their visual systems.

His study of the mantis shrimp revealed it has the world’s most complex visual system of any known animal, with 12-channel colour channels. His research also showed that octopus and other cephalopods are colour blind.[4]

He showed that mantis shrimp and cuttlefish can reflect and detect circular polarised light,[5][6] which is closely linked to covert communication.[7] This research is being used to design new generation polarisation cameras and other optical devices.

He has made discoveries in colour vision in several other animal groups, such as marine and freshwater fish, cephalopods, birds, lizards and crabs. In 2017, his lab uncovered a new type of eye cell in deep-sea fish, a 'rod-like cone' specialised for dimly lit environments.[8]

Marshall has also worked in the deep sea, contributing to the design of the MV Alucia research vessel. His research student Wen-Sung Chung was the first person in the world[9] to see a giant squid in its natural habitat in July 2012, via a video cameras set up by Japanese broadcaster NHK.[10]

Marshall is also a marine biologist and began the citizen science/outreach program CoralWatch in 2002.[11] One of his PhD students at the time developed the ‘coral health chart’, a color-coded chart to observe the health of corals seen when diving or snorkeling. The program is in 78 countries and has more than 3500 members; more than 8000 coral surveys have been conducted.

Marshall has contributed to more than 50 documentaries, including National Geographic, and BBC Blue-chip productions, and Chasing Coral on Netflix. He was worked with Sir David Attenborough on several series including the 2015 Great Barrier Reef series as chief science consultant.[12] Marshall featured alongside Attenborough in a submersible vessel in the 360 VR production relating to that series[13]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • Professor, Queensland Brain Institute[14] at The University of Queensland
  • Affiliated Professor, School of Biomedical Sciences, UQ
  • Affiliated Professor, Biological Sciences, UQ
  • President Australian Coral Reef Society 2008 - 2010[15]
  • ARC QEII Research Fellow 1996 - 2001
  • L’Oreal Art and Science Award 2001[16]
  • UQ Vice Chancellors Excellence Award 2001
  • Honorary board member of ProjectAWARE[17]
  • Advisory Board for ORCA,USA[18]
  • ARC (Australian Research Council) Laureate Fellow[19]
  • Vice Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, The University of Queensland[20]
  • 2015 PROSE Award in Textbook/Biological & Life Sciences by the Association of American Publishers for Visual Ecology[21]
  • 2016 IEEE award for bioinspired engineering[22]

Underwater research[edit]

Marshall has logged more than 1000 diving hours and twice lived underwater for 10 consecutive days in the Aquarius laboratory.[23]


  1. ^ Justin Marshall & Johannes Oberwinkler (1999). "Ultraviolet vision: the colourful world of the mantis shrimp". Nature. 401 (6756): 873–874. Bibcode:1999Natur.401..873M. doi:10.1038/44751. PMID 10553902.
  2. ^ "Current Biology Magazine" (PDF). 23 May 2016. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  3. ^ Williamson, Geordie (7 November 2016). The Best Australian Essays 2016. Black Inc. ISBN 9781863958851.
  4. ^ "Despite multicolor camouflage, cuttlefish, squid and octopus are colorblind". Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  5. ^ Tsyr-Huei Chiou; Sonja Kleinlogel; Tom Cronin; Roy Caldwell; Birte Loeffler; Afsheen Siddiqi; Alan Goldizen; Justin Marshall (2008). "Circular polarization vision in a stomatopod crustacean". Current Biology. 18 (6): 429–34. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.02.066. PMID 18356053.
  6. ^ "Cuttlefish use polarising vision to communicate". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  7. ^ "New form of secret light language keeps other animals in the dark". 17 November 2015. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  8. ^ Busserolles, Fanny de; Cortesi, Fabio; Helvik, Jon Vidar; Davies, Wayne I. L.; Templin, Rachel M.; Sullivan, Robert K. P.; Michell, Craig T.; Mountford, Jessica K.; Collin, Shaun P. (1 November 2017). "Pushing the limits of photoreception in twilight conditions: The rod-like cone retina of the deep-sea pearlsides". Science Advances. 3 (11): eaao4709. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aao4709. ISSN 2375-2548. PMC 5677336.
  9. ^ "The Giant Squid Stalker". 5 January 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  10. ^ "ORCA Deep Sea Program - Giant Squid". www.teamorca.org. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  11. ^ "Aims - CoralWatch". www.coralwatch.org. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  12. ^ Productions, Atlantic. "David Attenborough's Great Barrier Reef - An Interactive Journey". www.attenboroughsreef.com. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  13. ^ Atlantic Productions (16 March 2016), David Attenborough's Great Barrier Reef Dive - Trailer, retrieved 22 November 2017
  14. ^ "Sensory Neurobiology Group". Queensland Brain Institute. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  15. ^ "ACRS Newsletter 2009". December 2009. Archived from the original on 21 March 2012.
  16. ^ "Setting sights set on colourful communications". UQ News. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  17. ^ "Project Aware annual report 2010" (PDF). 2010. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  18. ^ "ORCA Advisors and Volunteers". www.teamorca.org. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  19. ^ Anonymous (22 August 2014). "$42 million for 16 new Australian Laureate Fellows". www.arc.gov.au. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  20. ^ "Bugs to help clean up mining processes". UQ News. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  21. ^ "2015 Award Winners - PROSE Awards". PROSE Awards. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  22. ^ "IEEE IEEE Donald G. Fink Prize Paper Award Recipients". www.ieee.org. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  23. ^ patrickw@themonthly.com.au (1 June 2016). "Grave Barrier Reef". The Monthly. Retrieved 22 November 2017.