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the beauty of tiny things

I loved playing with kaleideoscopes when I was (much) younger, but the images they produce have nothing on what Victorian microscopists achieved using diatoms.

Diatoms are single-celled photosynthetic organisms, and one of the things that really makes them stand out it the variety & beauty of their cell walls, which contain a very high proportion of silica: as the Tree of Life site says, they basically live in glass boxes. Collectively the diatoms make up one of the largest taxa on earth, one with considerable ecological significance: at about 40% of marine primary production, they produce >20% of our oxygen.

But back to their cell walls. Apparently, Victorian scientists were big on arranging these little organisms in complex patterns that derived much of their beauty from the cell walls found in different species. While the actual details of what they did weren't recorded, Neatorama describes the work of Klaus Kemp, who has rediscovered their art & generated some stunning images of his own.

Images like this: 

(Image credit: Klaus Kemp)

And watch the video here. This is wonderfully skilful work, & so beautiful, and I'll share it with my students in next year's classes.

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