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With Every Breath You Take, Thank the Ocean

When was the last time you thought about your breathing? Take a breath right now and think about it. You breathe because you need oxygen, a gas which makes up 21 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. All that oxygen has to come from somewhere. You might already know that it comes from photosynthetic organisms like plants. But did you know that most of the oxygen you breathe comes from organisms in the ocean?

That’s right—more than half of the oxygen you breathe comes from marine photosynthesizers, like phytoplankton and seaweed. Both use carbon dioxide, water and energy from the sun to make food for themselves, releasing oxygen in the process. 

Want to know who to thank? Up top, we have a picture of the giant kelp, a brown algae that grows along coasts in cooler regions around the world. The swirling blue image is of the ocean and was taken from a satellite in space. The light blue areas are where there are high concentrations of chlorophyll, the molecule used by phytoplankton to convert sunlight into energy. Lastly, this zoomed in image of a red algae shows its filamentous hairs, which are only a single cell width across, at 250x zoom. Pretty cool!


Art Under the Microscope: Threads

How exactly was the gilding of tapestries done in the 16th century? These microscopic images reveal all.  

These images show the warp and weft threads used to create a background detail in the Triumph of Bacchus tapestry recently exhibited in “Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV.” 

Viewed from a distance (like when the tapestry is hanging high up on a wall), the combo of the crimson silk with the gold threads looks like a bright copper, and here we can see all the separate colors and textures that build up that look.

Triumph of Bacchus, design overseen by Raphael, ca. 1518-19; design and cartoon by Giovanni da Udine. Brussels, workshop of Frans Geubels, ca 1560. Paris, Mobilier National, inv. GMTT 1/3.  Image © Le Mobilier National. Photo by Lawrence Perquis

Art Under the Microscope is a series that features, well, art under the microscope, as photographed by our conservators to better study and preserve our collections.

This is a scientific Illustration of my scorpion that I ordered online! The process consisted of rehydrating the specimen as well as pinning it into place on a piece of foam board. The end product was completed using carbon dust as well as carbon pencil to achieve the rich dark values within the subject! hope you guys enjoy!


Tears captured in beautiful microscopic images reveals their unique nature

A Dutch artist created the amazing images in a bid to see if different triggers -such as eating a chilli or chopping onions- created different looking tears.
‘I decided to start an evening of experimenting with my close friends,’ wrote Maurice Mikkers, the photographer. 'I asked them to cut onions, eat hot peppers, look in to a fan or cry because of sadness or happiness. To see if there was a resemblance or difference in the structure of forming tears, I took images of every tear drop under the microscope.’
Scientifically tears are divided into three different types based on their origin. Tears contain oils, antibodies and enzymes and fall into three categories: basal, which are released continuously to keep the eyes lubricated ; reflex, which occur in response to irritants such as when chopping onions or when getting poked in the eye ; and psychic, triggered by emotions. Scientists have identified that different types of tears are made up of distinct molecules. For example those caused by emotions contain hormones which act as a painkiller and are released when we are stressed.
'We are all familiar with these ways of crying, but how do they look microscopically? Is there any difference? Science says that every tear has a different viscosity and composition,’ said Mikkers. 'Nevertheless they are beautiful to look at.’

Butterfly eggs on a raspberry plant
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A micro-crack in steel
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Household dust
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Needle and thread
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E.coli bacteria on lettuce

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Beard hairs under a scanning electron microscope: cut with razor (left) and electric shaver (right)
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A moth wing
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Leaf of a Virginia spiderwort
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Shark skin

Archaean Life

Follow the arrows. The arrow in the upper image points to a tiny garnet grain – the 200μm scale bar is 1/5 of a millimeter wide. The lower image zooms in on a tiny inclusion of dark material trapped inside that garnet. Those inclusions are about 1 μm in size. See them? They might be your ancestor.

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You rolled over in bed to face Eunki, a sleepy smile creeping over your face. It had been years, and you still weren’t used to waking up next to your boyfriend. 

“Morning,” you replied groggily, blinking a few times to clear your vision. 

“I’ll go make the coffee,” Eunki rolled out of bed, pausing to smile at the sight of you burrowed under the covers. You watched, eyelids still heavy, as he padded to the kitchen, the sounds of coffee beans being ground starting up. With a sigh, you yourself rolled out of bed, heading to the bathroom. 

The two of you had stayed up fairly late the night before, binging on a new Netflix show. You’d fallen asleep in Eunki’s arms, nestled under the mountain of blankets that you’d arranged. 

You smiled at the memory as you put a bit of toothpaste on your toothbrush, happy to have these moments with Eunki. You glanced at yourself in the mirror, toothbrush in mouth, and felt your happiness dip momentarily, your fingers going down to the stretch marks on your exposed hips.

“Hey, no,” Eunki hugged you from behind, giving you a quick kiss on the cheek, “don’t look at these as imperfections, but as they are– what make you perfect.”

You smiled, glad to have such a wonderful person in your life, leaning back into the solid, grounding presence of Eunki. 


Produced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), under a magnification of 25,000X, this digitally-colorized scanning electron microscopic (SEM) image depicts numerous filamentous Ebola virus particles (blue) budding from a chronically-infected VERO E6 cell (yellow-green).

Ebola is one of numerous Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers. It is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).

Ebola is caused by infection with a virus of the family Filoviridae, genus Ebolavirus. When infection occurs, symptoms usually begin abruptly. The first Ebolavirus species was discovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ebola River. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically. See the Flickr link for additional SEM NIAID Ebola virus imagery.

Sporozoites of the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum emerging from their oocyst to infect gastrointestinal epithelial cells.

Cryptosporidium, commonly known by the comic book supervillian name “Crypto,” is transmitted by ingesting water or food contaminated with Crypto oocysts. Once ingested, the oocyte ruptures, and the sporozoites contained within infect the gut of their new host, causing watery diarrhea. 

Though outbreaks occasionally occur in the developed world, few infected in those outbreaks die from Crypto. However, in the developing world, some of those infected with Crypto develop chronic disease and die, particularly small, malnourished children.

For more on Crypto and how scientists are tackling this tricky parasite, check out this article on NPR’s All Things Considered about the work being done by the Striepen lab at the University of Georgia Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

Image courtesy Boris Striepen and Muthgapatti Kandasamy, University of Georgia Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases


Magnified Peacock Feathers

Peacock feathers are stunning from afar—the fan, the pageantry—but they become something entirely different close up.

British Columbia-based photographer Waldo Nell is an expert at capturing the extraordinary, even when he’s not working with a camera. Nell actually uses an Olympus BX53—that’s a microscope for the less scientific among us—to capture the most extreme closeups of the natural world, such as fish, insects, and these arresting photos of peacock feathers. After capturing the minute details of each with the microscope, Nell creates image composites that result in these high-def photos.