Science and Art

  • Adam Csank, Geography || Pictured here is a section of a fossilized tree from the Cretaceous (70 million years ago) from Alaska. Sections like these are sampled in order to use the anatomy to identify what species of tree it is. This particular tree is an extinct type of pine. The lines running from top to bottom in this image are trachied cells, used to transport water and mineral salts up from the roots. The circular cells are end on views of ray cells, used to move photosynthesis products in and out of the xylem. Inside the trachieds you can just make out the bordered pits, donut shaped features that serve to connect the trachieds. Over top of everything else you can see some flower like features which are crystalline growths that formed during the mineralization processes.
  • Chris Barile, Chemistry || These crystals of copper and nickel oxides were produced using electrodeposition. The large surface area of the dendritic structures give the crystals excellent catalytic properties. Undergraduate Yi Teng Lee recently demonstrated that these crystals catalytically split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, which is a renewable and cheap way of making hydrogen gas for use in fuel cells.
  • Stacia Gordon and Joel Desormeau, Geology || Pictured here is and Elemental x-ray map of a high-pressure eclogite from the world’s youngest known (ultra)high-pressure terrain in Papua New Guinea. This rock was buried to the upper mantle (depths of ~90 km!) in a subduction zone and brought back up to Earth’s surface rapidly at a rate of ~2 cm/yr in an extremely complex tectonic setting in the western Pacific. This colorful layered x-ray image is comprised of multiple maps (Fe, Ca, Na, Ti, Zr) that illustrate the convoluted relationship between the peak pressure phases (large garnet grains) and the subsequent breakdown of other high-pressure phases via fluid interaction during the journey back to the surface. The blue phase (rutile) allows for peak temperature estimates of metamorphism at 780 ºC and the bright red phase (zircon) records the timing of metamorphism that took place 4.6 million years ago in the upper mantle.
  • Adam Csank, Geography || Pictured here is a section of a fossilized tree from the Cretaceous (70 million years ago) from Alaska, also pictured in the first slide of this gallery. Sections like these are sampled in order to use the anatomy to identify what species of tree it is. This particular tree is an extinct type of pine. The lines running from top to bottom in this image are trachied cells, used to transport water and mineral salts up from the roots. The circular cells are end on views of ray cells, used to move photosynthesis products in and out of the xylem. Inside the trachieds you can just make out the bordered pits, donut-shaped features that serve to connect the trachieds. Over top of everything else you can see some flower-like features which are crystalline growths that formed during the mineralization processes.
  • Paula Noble, Geology || Pictured here is an Epithemia diatom found growing attached to rocks in the nearshore environment of Lake Tahoe. Local abundances of this diatom indicate a habitat where algal growth is limited by low nitrogen concentrations. Epithemia has adapted by hosting symbiotic blue-green algae capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen. This work is part of an ongoing study characterizing the species diversity and community structure in areas affected by nuisance algal growth.

Imagery captured by the microbeam laboratory captivates more than the world of scientific inquiry.

The Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering Microbeam Lab, established in 2015 by the Wilson Family Foundation, looks nothing like an art studio. In fact, it looks almost the complete opposite. Fluorescent lights, standard white walls, a couple of computer work stations and office chairs, and of course the two scanning electron microscopes (SEM). The larger of the two, the field emission SEM (FE-SEM), is a beast of an instrument. Standing about 7’ tall, the FE-SEM relies on an extremely stable beam of electrons under ultra-high vacuum for high-resolution imaging and x-ray analysis. This beam scans samples systematically to capture images at a scale almost incomprehensible. “It’s really hard to conceptualize,” Joel DesOrmeau, Mackay Microbeam Lab Manager and Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Geology said. “One way to think about it is to consider a typical light optical microscope in a biology lab. That microscope can achieve 100 times magnification to view “small” features to our naked eye. With an FE-SEM, we routinely image at 30, 40, and 100 thousand times magnification. Its range is from 10 to 300,000 times magnification.”

The microscope is widely used in both science and engineering for a wide range of applications including high-resolution imaging, elemental identification, texture analysis and more.

A major advantage of imaging with an SEM is the greater depth of field compared to a light optical microscope. “You can think of a secondary electron image as making a topographic map of your sample,” DesOrmeau said, “whether it’s natural or manmade materials. It’s essentially a fancy camera that can get you incredible images at scales we would not be able to see otherwise.”

There is a constant flow of researchers and graduate students in and out of the lab. And while it might not look like an art studio, the images created in the lab would not look out of place framed on a wall. In fact, they’d likely garner quite a bit of attention. The following images were taken by the FE-SEM in collaboration with College of Science researchers, but the aesthetic results are astonishing. And while the almost incomprehensible scale and abstract nature of the images can be baffling, the wonderful thing about both science and art is that you don’t have to fully understand either to be inspired.

Adorn your walls with research

The College of Science would like to offer our donors a unique way to support the College of Science. Order your very own print of one of the FE-SEM images pictured above and support faculty and student success at the College of Science. If interested, fill out the below form and the College will get in touch soon with order information.