Invisible Worlds: the MicroPopulous of London I.

Man and his works perish, but the monuments of the infusoriae are the flinty ribs of the sea, the giant bones of huge continents, heaped into mountain-ranges over which the granite and porphyry have set their stony seal for ever. Man thrives in his little zone: the populous infusoriae crowd every nook of earth from the remote poles to the burning equatorial belt.” Will Wallace Harney

Microorganisms in a few scant micro litres of water from the Boating Lake, Regent’s Park, revealed by the motion tracks that they make at 200-times magnification (above). 

There is a form of life, that in terms of numbers and activity, dwarfs all else in our capital city. We share our city with this life but rarely consider it, yet it underpins everything that lives in London including ourselves. This life is not animal, and is not even  the invertebrates that make up between 95 and 97 percent of all animal species on Earth. This life is microscopic, and the microorganisms which inhabit this usually invisible world make up a significant part of the Earth’s biomass.

It’s easy for us to overlook this microscopic life because of it’s diminutive size and our unconscious macroscopic bias. Here though it’s not size that matters but numbers and activity, and thus in many ways the impact of this invisible world dwarfs the biology that we can see with our unaided eyes. We can choose ignore this domain of life, but we will never extricate ourselves from it as its energies permeate through everything else that lives and even our cities as here. As our activities change our planet, this vast realm of invisible life is responding and adapting, and will in turn influence dramatically the process of change in ways we are only just starting to understand.

The work here is the beginning of a new project which seeks to explore and reveal this usually hidden microbiology in the familiar setting of our nation’s capital city. On my first such outing I visited Regents Park, one of the eight Royal Parks.

The Urban skyline at The Regent’s Park

The green waters of a fountain. My first sampling point

My first sampling point was a fountain (above) whose green water suggested populations for photosynthetic microbes. I took a few micro litres of water from this fountain at observed it a 200-times magnification using my Newton Nm1 Portable field microscope (below).

The Newton Nm1 portable field microscope being used in situ at The Regent’s Park. On the grass next to the Japanese Garden. Attached is an iPhone 6 for recording images/videos.

Observed under a microscope in real-time its difficult to discern purpose in the movements of the infusoria (an old and poetic term for microorganisms) so I use two processes to reveal this and to add an important non-scientific aesthetic to the works. The first process uses time-lapse at 200-times magnification to reveal the  complex movements and interactions of the microbes and to uncover a complex and elegant  microscopic ballet.

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of water from The Regent’s Park fountain, reveals an elegant and complex microbial ballet (below)

The second process that I’ve developed, rather than recording micro-videos in real-time, records instead the paths taken by microscopic creatures under the microscope. The images generated, result from the accumulation of the activity tracks of these usually invisible life forms and reveal the hugely complicated dynamic of their manifold activities and interactions. The process is transformative, in that it converts the mundane and disregarded, into something remarkable, not by changing it, but by revealing another level of reality that is usually withheld from us. Each sample generates a unique signature of accumulated biological wavelengths and frequencies.The tracks remind me very much of the tracks made by atomic particle collisions, and radioactive decay, as recorded in cloud and bubble chambers, and whilst London’s human inhabitants go about their daily lives, the city vibrates to this incalculable frenzy of invisible biological wavelengths and frequencies (below).

Microorganisms in a few scant micro litres of water from the Fountain, Regent’s Park, revealed by the motion tracks that they make at 200-times magnification (below).

142.24 second exposure.

142.24 second exposure.

158.78 second exposure.

158.78 second exposure.

55.12 second exposure.

55.12 second exposure.

 

The next sampling site was the Boating Lake.

IMG_6647

A few ducks and seagulls represent the visible life inhabiting the Boating Lake.

 

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of water from The Regent’s Park Boating Lake, reveals an elegant and complex microbial ballet (below)

 

Microorganisms in a few scant micro litres of water from the Boating Lake, Regent’s Park, revealed by the motion tracks that they make at 200-times magnification (below).

90.32 second exposure.

90.32 second exposure.

71.62 second exposure.

71.62 second exposure.

65.66 second exposure.

65.66 second exposure.

55.29 second exposure.

55.29 second exposure.

 

And the final sampling point was the lake at the Japanese Garden.

IMG_2360

Four ducks represent the visible life inhabiting the lake at the Japanese Garden.

 

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of water from lake at the Japanese Garden Regent’s Park  reveals an elegant and complex microbial ballet (below).

 

And finally here is an example video of the motion tracks appearing in real-time the iPhone connected to the Newton portable field microscope.

 

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