Flea Glasses and Hidden Spaces

Imagine the excitement of using one of the world’s first magnifying glasses back in the 16th century. All those creatures and items too tiny for examination with the naked eye would have suddenly revealed some of their secrets.

Early magnifying glasses were so popular for looking at minuscule life forms such as fleas that they were sometimes called ‘flea glasses’. The workings of bodily and natural mechanics that were once hidden by size were revealed.

Ah, well. The opportunities available today for finding hidden spaces are multitudinous. I saw these images and wanted to share them.

Wheat flowerbud, winning image in the 2014 Australian Museum New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography. Taken with an electron microscope. Photo: Mark Talbot
Wheat flowerbud, winning image in the 2014 Australian Museum New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography.
Taken with an electron microscope.
Photo: Mark Talbot

It’s not just size or distance that has been revealed by new viewing methods, it’s time.

There are countless cellular processes that have been well-studied and photographed – but here’s a new option for viewing these processes in real time and in 3-D.  Lattice light-sheet microscopy uses extremely rapid pulses of ultra-thin sheets of light to scan living cells.

Below, a still image from the film showing HeLa cell division.

This kind of tool can help researchers better understand the actual behavior of cells and processes, furthering understanding of how cancer cells develop, for example.

But as the new microscopes inventor, Dr. Eric Betzig, has said, there are undoubtedly many applications for this kind of vision which haven’t even been discovered yet.

Because, of course, sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for until we find something looking back at us that wants further investigation.

HeLa division.  Source: Chen et al via Science
HeLa cell division.
Source: Chen et al via Science

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