April 03, 2010
Photographer: John Stetson
Summary Author: D. Krupski, M. Jennings, P. Stetson, and J. Stetson
The wafer-like object featured above is a diatom. It was taken from a water sample in the Gulf of Maine and is seen here edge on, as observed through a microscope -- think of viewing a galaxy edgewise in a telescope. A diatom is an aquatic, photosynthetic plant. This one is about 100 microns across; approximately the width of a human hair. Aquatic plants constitute 10 percent of the Earth's biomass and may produce as much as 50 percent of the Earth's oxygen. Diatoms may also be very significant in the field of nanotechnology; they produce microscale valves that may, someday, be components in solar panels on our roofs. These little creatures appear in the fossil record as far back as the Jurassic Period – more than 144 million years ago.
This image was captured with a webcam attached to a microscope; live images were projected onto a computer screen. A 21.5 inch (54.61 cm) Apple iMac screen allowed four of us to observe together and to experience a shared inquiry. Photo taken in South Portland, Maine on March 5, 2010.