Black Fractals

DSC_0430

The obsession with crystallisation continues.

A beautiful tree made of pure silver emerges after I placed a minute shard of copper into a drop of sliver nitrate. It’s classical example of a simple displacement reaction. I did make a video but the process was so quick that I couldn’t capture it!

 

Penetration

Another work which  explores two current strands of interest, one new, and the other far older, and from my teenage years. The most recent theme is the concept of vitalism, a theory that held that living organisms were fundamentally different from non-living entities, in that they contained some unique non-physical element called the vital or life spark. The older strand, and I think that it’s fair to call it an obsession now, is the process of crystallisation. I can trace this back to a period of two days when my teenage mind was exposed to the wonder of J.G Ballard’s The Crystal World. So here I am many years later, adding Urea, the synthesis of which by Friedrich Wöhler led to vitalism’s demise, to a culture of my own epithelial cells. If you look closely to can see my cells with their nuclei being killed and penetrated by various types of crystallisation processes. Death by a thousand cuts!

Endless Forms Most Beautiful

 This work explores two current strands of interest, one new, and the other far older, and from my teenage years. The most recent theme is the concept of vitalism, a theory that held that living organisms were fundamentally different from non-living entities, in that they contained some unique non-physical element called the vital or life spark. The older strand, and I think that it’s fair to call it an obsession now, is the process of crystallisation. I can trace this back to a period of two days when my teenage mind was exposed to the wonder of J.G Ballard’s The Crystal World. So here I am many years later, adding Urea, the synthesis of which by Friedrich Wöhler led to vitalism’s demise, to a culture of my own epithelial cells. This exquisite form emerged spontaneously from my experiment. A life-like domain, and a distinctly crystalline one, connected by a fine thread-like umbilicus. Extraordinary, I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Life is strange.

The Pull of The Moon

Tide2 Tide1

We are all familiar with tides, and how the moon generates these. I’ve long been intrigued by the thought that all water feels and succumbs to the pull of the moon, This otherwise capricious compound,  compelled into movement by a celestial body some 384,400 kilometres distant. And so I decided to determine whether I could detect the influence of the moon on a minute drop of salt water using a powerful DIC microscope. It seems that tides are present even in the most minute drop of this fluid, and that these leave behind microscopic tidelines. How wonderful is it, that a tiny drop of water and the moon are connected over hundreds of thousands of kilometres of empty space and that we can measure this.

those mere atomies

I read “The War Of the Worlds” by H.G Wells as a young teenager, and its opening lines were my first, and career defining, introduction to the wonder and hidden power of microbiology. Here are those lines:

“ that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

Tomorrow, I am honoured to be giving the Peter Wildy prize lecture, for my contribution to microbiology outreach and communication, at the Society of General Microbiology’s annual conference. I look out now over the city of Birmingham, and watch small and seemingly transient metal creatures swarm beneath me, and with the words of those first lines echoing powerfully in my mind, I feel now as if I am that man with the microscope, and the one that I always dreamt of becoming.

The title is taken from another of H.G Wells’ s microbiologically inspired books “The Stolen Bacillus”