On The Surface Of Humically Darkened Pools

 

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A fatal iridescence

A fatal iridescence

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A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and  moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

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A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and  moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

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A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and  moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and  moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

A blade of grass has dipped into the water, and moved by the wind, has acted like a needle and etched the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

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Here, on the surface of humically darkened and  acid pools in an ancient marshland (Thursely Common), the microbiological world reveals itself, and also the activity of other creatures, and the wind.

Occasionally on the surface of an undisturbed and natural pond, a fragile and iridescent film will form. Often dismissed as just pollution, these brittle layers are in fact entirely natural, and are formed by the activity of resident iron and manganese oxidising bacteria. The films are so thin, that they able diffract light, so that they shimmer with the colours of the spectrum and have their own inherent beauty. Beyond this, these delicate films uniquely record what must be one of Nature’s most fleeting and difficult to capture phenomena, that is the footfall of small animals and insects that dwell on the surface of water (Epineustons). In addition, where a blade of grass dips into the water, and is moved by the wind, it acts like a needle and etches the movement of the wind onto the surface of the water much like a scientific chart recorder would.

What ephemeral poems would poets etch into this fragile and metallic vellum?

The Curious Tale Of The Dog’s Vomit Slime Mould

 

In its originalspot

In its original spot

 

 

The vacant scar

The vacant scar

 

In its new spot, a few feet above its old home

In its new spot, a few feet above its old home

In its new spot, a few feet above its old home

In its new spot, a few feet above its old home

I came across this Dog’s Vomit Slime Mould on the trunk  of a dead tree about three weeks ago at Thursely Common.  On revisiting the same site today, the slime mould had disappeared from its original, spot leaving a scar, and had moved a few feet up the tree, apparently whilst no one  was watching! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iron: Extraterrestrial or Anthropogenic ?

I’ve begun a new project to isolate magnetotactic bacteria (using organelles called magnetosomes these bacteria orientate themselves along magnetic field lines)  from natural water courses. The process involves a magnetic dredging and panning step, followed by an enrichment using a capillary racetrack. I chose our waterbutt (collects rain from our roof) in the first instance and was astonished by the amout of magnetic iron that I collected from its sediment. Every day around 200 tons of extraterrestrial matter enters the Earth’s atmosphere, and most of this is in the form of micrometeorites. Most

of these are made from iron,  and they  are thus magnetic,  so it’s tempting to speculate that the magnetic material in the water butt comprises these which have hit our roof and then been concentrated in our water butt by rain. It’s more likely though, that this material, given its quantity, is anthropogenic iron, that is part of the tens of thousands of tons of iron particles and dust that daily enter the Earth’s atmosphere, from engines of all kinds, fly ash from coal fired power stations etc. Makes you wonder what all of this iron is doing to the environment.

The magnetic iron particles, concentrated by a disc magnet

The magnetic iron particles, concentrated by a disc magnet

The iron particles reacting to a bar magnet.

The iron particles reacting to a bar magnet.

The magnetic iron particles, concentrated by a disc magnet

The magnetic iron particles, concentrated by a disc magnet

Immortal Worlds? A cautionary tale.

Immortal Worlds? is a collaborative project between artist Jac Scott and myself, with our initial investigations being funded by an A-N New Collaboration Bursary. The focus of the project is on mapping the unseen, but vitally important world of bacteria and, particularly how climate change will impact on these organisms, which underpin all of the Earth’s many diverse and living ecosystems. We aim to create innovative and collaborative studies that will not only experimentally and critically engage art and science, but will also spark debate about our rapidly changing world. Our initial explorations have been to replicate natural microbial ecosystems from important environments like salt marshes, wilderness areas, and various water courses, and then to mimic the predicted effects of global warming, like increased temperature, in the laboratory, and finally to observe the outcome. These images are from microbial ecosystems that have been established from a salt marsh in Blakeney, Norfolk. One set of ecosystems has been incubated at temperatures that we might encounter today, and the others at a higher temperature that might be the outcome of global warming. The differences in the health and diversity of the ecologies is both striking and frightening, the low temperature ones flourishing and exhibiting great diversity, with the higher temperature systems being dominated by a form of grey monotonous life and appearing far less balanced.

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem (left), High Temperature Ecosystem (right)

Low Temperature Ecosystem (left), High Temperature Ecosystem (right)

Low Temperature Ecosystem (left), High Temperature Ecosystem (right)

Low Temperature Ecosystem (left), High Temperature Ecosystem (right)

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

Low Temperature Ecosystem

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The Hacked Winogradsky Column

 

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The inspiration for this work is a research paper that  I published in 1997. Entitled “Integration of Heterologous Plasmid DNA into multiple sites on the genome of Campylobacter coli following natural transformation” we demonstrated that certain types of bacteria can naturally take up any DNA that they are mixed with,  and integrate this into their own genomes.

In the light of the research above,  I have added my own DNA to the column knowing that some of it will be taken up by the bacteria in it and be integrated into their own genomes. In a sense, I have hacked this bacterial ecology, and corrupted its genetics, so that is now a human/bacterial chimera. The Winogradsky column is also a self-sustaining and perpetual ecosystem, so that over time the sequence of my  integrated DNA will be begin to change and mutate, as the bacteria containing it evolve. They will eventually change the meaning of the information embedded within my DNA,  and perhaps at some future point in time,   redirect its purpose to suit there own ends.

Summer Fashion: BactoDyes are the new black

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This uniquely dyed fabric is part of an on-going research project that aims to develop sustainable textile dyes, and builds upon the age old practice of using natural plant materials to dye fabrics. Here, however, in this 21st century craft,  the sources of the natural pigments are invisible pigment factories, in the form of billions of microscopic  cells of  bacteria which naturally produce the coloured pigments that can be seen on the textile. I hope to turn the fabric into a Summer Frock that could be worn by a model on a catwalk, as having been autoclaved and survived the process, the material is free of living bacteria and thus safe to handle. In future projects, I am hoping to replace the unsustainable process of indigo production,  for the dyeing of, denim with sustainable pigments of bacterial origin.

White Dog: an autogenic sculpture

This work is drawn out of my own experiences, and exploration, of the interface between science and art, and is a deeply personal therapy for me at the same time. It is a biphasic system of two immiscible liquids (will not undergo mixing): a capricious and inventive aqueous phase (at the bottom) and a viscous methodical liquid floating on top of this. Over a period of a week, an organic and protean white sculpture condenses out of the space of the interface, and where the two phases slowly interact with each other. I see my role as a facilitator, so that the work fluctuates in the dialectic between my need to impose control as a scientist, and the indeterminacy of the natural world. In the same way, the setup of the initial system is guided by my knowledge as a scientist and my will, but the white and life-like emergent form is autogenetic (grows by itself). Carved out by the processes operating between two interacting systems, it grows to explore and occupy the possibilities present at an interface.

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