The Animalcule Drawings I: Black Carbon (BC)

” Unique conflicting BioArt made with life and Anthropogenic Materials”

Stentor

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is widely regarded as one of the founding father’s of microbiology, as he was one of the first individuals to observe protozoa (1674) using a microscope that he had made himself. In a letter written in September, 1674, Leeuwenhoek describes a spiral microorganism, possibly what we know of today as Spirogyra, in his observations on lake water,

“Passing just lately over this lake, . . . and examining this water next day, I found floating therein divers earthy particles, and some green streaks, spirally wound serpent-wise, and orderly arranged, after the manner of the copper or tin worms, which distillers use to cool their liquors as they distil over”

Van Leeuwenhoek originally referred to these microscopic creatures as Animalcules (from the Latin animalculum, meaning tiny animal). Such microscopic life forms are also called  Infusoria from the Latin infundere (infuse) and so named because they were originally found in infusions of decaying organic matter. Today, these micro-organisms referred to as unicellular organisms or Protozoa (meaning first animals). As the principal hunters and grazers of the microbial world, protozoa play a key role in maintaining the balance of bacterial, algal, and other microbial life in natural and urban ecosystems. They also are themselves, an important food source for larger creatures and form the basis of many food chains. Protozoa have been found in almost every kind of soil environment, from peat bogs to arid desert sands, and vast numbers microscopically animate, the deep seas,  near the surface waters, form the tropic to  frigid Arctic and Antarctic waters.

Protozoa, have evolved many different strategies for feeding some are sessile and acquire nutrition through filter-feeding,  whilst others are motile and actively seek out their prey. In both, cases these activities are powered by organelles called cilia or flagella which beat  wave, allowing which allow the protozoa to move and to generate powerful micro-currents, to filter feed.

Humans pollute the environment with huge quantities of soot every year and it is believed  to be the second most important human-made agent of climate change. It is generated by burning of forests and savannah, by diesel engines, and coal burning. A major constituent of soot, is Black Carbon (BC) which can absorb one million times more energy than CO2. BC is the second largest contributor to climate change after CO2. However, unlike CO2, which can stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years, BC, because it is particulate, remains in the atmosphere only for days to weeks before it returns to earth with rain or snow. When it falls to earth with this precipitation, not only does it damage ecosystems and reduce agricultural productivity, but BC also darkens the surface of snow and ice, reducing their albedos (the reflecting power of a surface), warming the ice, and hastening melting.

Air pollution also  causes millions of premature deaths each year, these being mainly caused by the inhalation of microscopic particulate matter. BC is especially dangerous to human health because of its tiny size. In fact, the WHO reported in 2012,  that there was sufficient evidence to link exposure to BC to cardiopulmonary morbidity and mortality.  The review of the toxicological studies suggested that BC may not be a major directly toxic component of fine particulate matter, but that it may operate as a universal carrier for a wide variety of toxic chemicals into the human body.

India ink, commonly used in drawing and in art, has an intriguing link with Black Carbon (BC) in that a form of BC called Lampblack is its main constituent, other than water.  Usually no binder material is necessary in order to stabilise the ink as the BC particles are in colloidal suspension, and they form a waterproof layer after drying. Lampblack is made from burning oily or resinous materials and collecting the resulting soot containing the BC.

To make the Animalcule Drawings, I mixed various animalcules with India Ink and observed them under a Differential Interference Contrast microscope at 200x magnification. This  processes simultaneously reveals the complexity of these lifeforms and the complex fluid dynamics that their activity generates, and also the insidious nature through which a widespread and anthropogenically generated pollutant, Black Carbon,  infiltrates living organisms, and the enters into the bottom of the food chain.

Volvox

Volvox

Volvox

Volvox

DSC_0576.JPG

Blepharisma

Volvox

Volvox

Volvox

Stentor

Stentor

Stentor

Unidentified fast moving animalcules

 

Stentor

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