Photographer Igor Siwanowicz took these incredible photographs of tiny creatures. Dr Siwanowicz, a neurobiologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, Virginia, shows us the wonders of life in kaleidoscopic color. Produced with a confocal laser-scanning microscope, his work enlarged on the art of Ernst Haeckel’s vivid illustrations of microscopic life, Wilson Alwyn Bentley’s stellar pictures of snowflakes, Arthur E Smith’s photo-micrographs and Daniel Kariko’s intriguing images of mini-bests in our homes.
Confocal imaging involves scanning the specimen to create computer-generated optical sections down to 250 nm thickness using visible light. These optical sections may be stacked to provide a 3-D digital reconstruction of the specimen.
Laser scanning confocal microscope produces images in a very different way than a bright field microscope (your standard biology class microscope). It is a fluorescent microscope, which means that the imaged specimen is illuminated with light of a certain wavelength and emits light of a different, longer wavelength. It’s the same physical phenomenon that makes black light posters from the ’70s-‘80s glow. The microscope, which registers that light, takes a series of images of the tiny specimen by scanning it point by point. Because the specimen is much thicker than the plane of focus, a series of images—called “stack”—is collected by moving the sample up or down. From those “optical slices” a three-dimensional image of the structures within the sample can be reconstructed.
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