More Microscopy

Mosquito Eyes

Mosquito eyes. Microscopy courtesy of Oliver Meckes.


I first wrote about microscopy on OT back in September of 2009 when discussing Luke Jerram‘s glass sculptures. I said then that microscopy "frequently reveals fractal characteristics in the microcosmic world." Was I ever right.

The image gallery at FEI, a company producing high end microscopes, is a treasure trove of state-of-the-art microscopy. According to the Microscopy Society of America, microscopy

refers to the study of objects that are too small to be easily viewed by the unaided human eye. Viewing objects that range in size from millimeters down to as small as nanometers (1 nm ~ 0.00000004" = 40 billionths of an inch)

and Wikipedia digs into more specifics by explaining that

optical and electron microscopy involve the diffraction, reflection, or refraction of electromagnetic radiation/electron beams interacting with the specimen, and the subsequent collection of this scattered radiation or another signal in order to create an image. This process may be carried out by wide-field irradiation of the sample…or by scanning of a fine beam over the sample

using microscopes utilizing diverse illumination sources: light, electrons, ions, x-rays, and mechanical probes.

Of interest here, as usual, is to marvel at the range of fractal properties seen in the inner space of both nature and matter. Self-similar and recursive designs systematically appear again and again in this particular area of microphotography. I would even argue microscopy reveals that fractal patterns are innate in nature and encoded into matter.

The mosquito in the image above has a serious unibrow problem. Do the tail-like strands between the eyes shield them? We know insect eyes are compound from that iconic fly-eye POV shot of the screaming wife in the original film version of The Fly, but who would have thought a mosquito’s eyes would resemble foam rubber, upholstery cushioning, or the ball pits in bounce houses? And that nose bridge looks Darwinian — simian and angry.

The image is a fractal tile of mirrored structures with self-similarity seen in the hairs, eye components, nostril shapes, and antennae forms.


Moss hosting methane-eating bacteria. Microscopy courtesy of Michal Rawsi.

[Click on images to view at higher resolution on source sites.]

The mold here looks knitted with origins in the fiber arts — shaped into a plush toy creature holding a small log. The bacteria resembles rope or hose or macaroni. Don’t overlook the strange embossing in the background, especially the eclipsed skull shape in the lower right corner.

It’s not surprising that a shot of mold would be filled with dark, absent spaces, but the vanishing point seen at the left-center is a surprise, as are the illuminated light lines and pools found on the main form’s right "head" and "torso."


Dandelions. Microscopy courtesy of Gerald Poirier.

Each dandelion contains galaxies all simultaneously going nova. Starbursts. Fireflies. Moths drawn to their own light.

The fractal patterns in this image jibe with those of the very first image found in OT’s Fractal Art Collection: an albino peacock.

Ground coffee 

Ground coffee. Microscopy courtesy Maria Carbajo.

This looks like an empty hornet’s nest — like something insectoid made with secreting mandibles. It’s a hive for coffee’s caffeinated sting.

This feels very Mandelbulbish. Of all the microscopy images I viewed, this piece most closely evokes a 3D sense impression.

 Bumble Bee Antenna

Bumble bee antenna. Microscopy courtesy of Sharon Lackie.

Is it a near-frozen ripple of frost glazing a pond? Or an inexplicable still of a nuclear blast wave? Or is this what the marines found covering the walls under the power station during their mission to free the colonists in the film Aliens?

Recursion is quite evident here and is easily seen in the holes, hairs, and rings.


Caterpillar. Microscopy courtesy of Ken Bart.

"Who are you," said the Caterpillar.
–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lesson learned. Accept no free mushrooms from bugs. If you do, be prepared to perceive your first dragon.

The segmentation in this image is decidedly fractal. Compare the forms in it to this image of mine from 1999.

 Mouse kidney

Mouse kidney — fractured to show podocytes. Microscopy courtesy of Matt Sharp.

I think I’m having a flashback from that previously mentioned mushroom. This is positively psychedelic — a fitting backdrop for Grateful Dead jams. Why does this piece also feel remote — even a bit troubling? Is it the plasticity of the forms, as if one were viewing the dissection of a Barbie doll? Or is it instead the hardness and sharpness of a coral reef?

Self-similarity can be seen as the "foot projections" of the podocytes wrap around capillaries. It’s well known that nervous and circulatory systems exhibit fractal patterns. Is it possible that such patterns also extend to the intricacies of internal organs?

Wireless array 

Wireless neural electrode array. Microscopy courtesy of Rohit Sharma.

Just what exactly is this? From the notes:

The image shows a 10*10, 1.5mm long, 400 micron pitch Utah Neural Wireless Electrode array for communicating with individual neurons from the brain. The substrate consists of machined crisscross channels which are 500 μm deep, filled with glass frits (insulator between each electrode), with backside metallization (not visible in the picture) using microfabricaion techniques for integration with the electronics. The frontside of the array is machined into 100 electrodes on a wafer level followed by acid etching of the columns to form pointed needles with fine surface texture. The tips of all the electrodes are coated with Iridium oxide in order to communicate with neurons during the stimulation and recording from the brain.

Electronics is one of the more captivating categories of microscopic imagery at FEI. Surfing around, one finds deep zooms into subjects like flash memory, tungsten filament, and a slap-up shot of nickle nanowires that could be mistaken for an arresting flame fractal.

Note the stark contrast in self-similar forms: block vs. needle.

Penicillium fungus of bread 

Penicillium fungus of bread. Microscopy courtesy of Wadah Mahmoud.

One certainly gets a sense of something growing in this shot. The string-like forms remind me of live oak blooms. Depth works exceptionally well here and is achieved by the gradation and coloring of shadows that fill the (bread?) blue background.

There’s plenty of replication, too. Fractal patterns like banana clusters. If they were pipe cleaners instead of bananas. And floated in India ink pools instead of grew on trees.

Tomato leaf 

Surface of a tomato leaf. Microscopy coutesy of Ken Bart.

What an unnerving alien landscape. But it also has a horny toad feel. The thorns are worse than those of roses. But it also has a zippered Godzilla suit feel.

Note self-similar shapes in the bark, the barbs, and the blooms.

Embedded tick 

Tick embedded in dog skin. Microscopy courtesy of Valerie Lynch-Holm.

I know. This one falls into the more-information-than-I-really-needed category. The best dream of Dracula is also Fido’s nightmare. I’d scratch that monster, too. And are those siphoning tubes located near the creature’s head for transfusions?

I like how everything flows in this work (says the blogger trying to keep a straight face).

And how many times do I have to confess my shame for my soft spot for texture? Molting skin. Chalky cave walls. Teeth like walrus tusks. This is texture heaven.

ZnO nanoparticles 

ZnO nanoparticles. Microscopy courtesy of Francisco Rangel.

From the notes:

ZnO nanoparticles obtained by hydrothermal synthesis using microwave heating.

Inner space imitates Monet. It’s just as I always suspected. The world is made of flowers.




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2 thoughts on “More Microscopy

  1. Wow! Amazing imagery!

    I’ve always loved microphotography, and you’ve got some really stunning stuff here. My favorite was the mouse kidney. It really does look like it was sculpted out of different colors of Play-Dough or something.

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