Diatom Design

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Photograph of diatoms collected in Russia and arranged on a microscope slide in 1952 by A.L. Brigger. Source: CAS

Photograph of diatoms collected in Russia and arranged on a microscope slide in 1952 by A.L. Brigger.
Source: CAS

Diatoms are a major group of algae. The word ‘diatom’ means to be ‘cut in two’, and certainly, these algae do look like perfect slices of something larger.

From the Tree of Life web project (David G. Mann):

The diatoms are one of the largest and ecologically most significant groups of organisms on Earth. They are also one of the easiest to recognize, because of their unique cell structure, silicified cell wall and life cycle. They occur almost everywhere that is adequately lit (because most species need light for photosynthesis) and wet – in oceans, lakes and rivers; marshes, fens and bogs; damp moss and rock faces; even on the feathers of some diving birds.

Diatoms probably account for as much as 20% of global photosynthetic fixation of carbon, which is more than all the world’s tropical rainforests.

Basically, diatoms live in glass boxes. The silica shell of the diatom is called the ‘frustule’ and is made of two halves, each in turn composed of several different pieces.

Selections from Ernst Haeckel's 1904 Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature), showing pennate (left) and centric (right) frustules. Source: Wikipedia

Selections from Ernst Haeckel’s 1904 Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature), showing pennate (left) and centric (right) frustules.
Source: Wikipedia

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has a collection of artwork, created using diatoms. Created on slides, these pieces are miniature magnificence.

They are beautiful in and of themselves, little works of natural splendor.

Photograph of fossil diatoms collected in Pt. Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California, and arranged on a microscope slide in 1968 by A.L. Brigger. Source: CAS

Photograph of fossil diatoms collected in Pt. Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, California, and arranged on a microscope slide in 1968 by A.L. Brigger.
Source: CAS

I’m always looking for work that is at an intersection between the natural world, science and art. These tiny kaleidoscopic works by scientist artists patiently using diatoms as their medium certainly qualify.

Photograph of diatoms arranged on a microscope slide by W.M. Grant. Source: CAS

Photograph of diatoms arranged on a microscope slide by W.M. Grant.
Source: CAS

See more here.

One response »

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