Beautiful Science: Nature in Pictures

The natural world is a very beautiful place though much of that beauty is hidden from plain sight, too small to be seen with the unaided eye. Thanks to advanced imaging techniques, we are now privy to this world and it is a world swirling with exuberant colors and fractal shapes, a world too beautiful for words.

This image might look like a stunnng coastal scene, but it is in fact a close-up of a prase opal, a gem coloured green by nickel. Nathan Renfro, a geologist and mineralogist, magnified it to mimic the short of a shoreline.

This is image of Vitamin C crystals taken with polarized light. Vitamin C is an optically active molecule. It has a refractive index that changes randomly when seen in different directions, delivering a nearly unlimited source of beauty.

Vitamin C is essential for collagen formation and wound healing, and lack of it can lead to scurvy. Its study led to the award of the Medicine and Chemistry Nobel Prizes in 1937 – the first prize to Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi, who first isolated the vitamin, and the second prize to Norman Haworth for unravelling its molecular structure.

This colorful, flourescent, almost hypnotic image looks like the product of the artistic imagination, but in fact they show nature in all its magnificent glory. The kaleidoscopic swirls are those of two amino acids, L-glutamine and beta-alanine, both of which are naturally occurring. L-glutamine is an essential building block for proteins while beta-analine is a non-essential amino acid that aids the production of carnosine, a compound that plays a role in muscle endurance. To capture this image, photographer Justin Zoll crystallised the two amino acids out of solution in ethanol, then used filters to add contrast and remove unwanted reflections.

This arresting image shows neural stem cells from mice being used to study a form of brain cancer. Researcher Sumana Shrestha used confocal microscopy, a type of optimal imaging that helps remove unwanted light or glare so she could zoom in on specific cells of interest: the star-shaped cells in green known as astrocytes and neurons in red. Astrocytes have several important functions – they facilitate neurotransmission, support blood-brain barrier, provide nutrients to neurons and repair neural tissues after injury.

This shot, taken by researcher Tagide deCarvalho, uses flourescene to show the insides of a tardigrade, one of Earth’s toughest organisms. These creatures are just 0.05 to 1 millimetre long, yet can withstand cold of -200 °C, heat of 150 °C, as well as radiation and pressure that would kill us and even the vaccuum of space.

Leave a Reply