Brilliant photos of little life-forms are taken with a laser-scanning microscope

Igor Siwanowicz
© Igor Siwanowicz

Beauty is in the details. After all, if what is seen in nature with the naked eye is already pretty spectacular, imagine seeing what''s hidden at the microscopic level.

Well, that's why neurobiologist and photographer Dr. Igor Siwanowicz is passionate about capturing close-up images of things like slug moth caterpillars, oak lace bugs and dragonfly necks. His brilliantly coloured photos, taken with a special microscope, reveal an awe-inspiring world showing the complexity of these diminutive life-forms. As Siwanowicz tells Wired:

I first laid hands on my microscope only three years ago, when I changed fields. I used to work as a biochemist, but I decided that neurobiology was more in tune with my naturalist approach. Plus they have these cool toys: confocal laser-scanning microscopes.

Igor Siwanowicz© Igor Siwanowicz
Igor Siwanowicz© Igor Siwanowicz

Yes, the cool toys of science! The confocal laser-scanning microscope differs from conventional microscopes in that it can capture many images at different levels of focus (known as optical sectioning), which are then collated back into one high-resolution image. You can see how clear and what kind of depth are shown below in the images of a midge pupa and a moth's antennae.

Igor Siwanowicz© Igor Siwanowicz
Igor Siwanowicz© Igor Siwanowicz
Igor Siwanowicz© Igor Siwanowicz

With his microscope, Siwanowicz is discovering new things all the time. For instance, he's been studying dragonfly proprioceptors, which are organs that help with balance and spatial orientation, and which are found in the necks of dragonflies (image below). He says:

They're totally fascinating. They have this huge head that rests on this one point, and those sensors communicate directly to wing and abdomen muscles. It's stabilized inertia. That direct neck-to-abdomen link hadn't been found before. I'm finding something new every other week.

Igor Siwanowicz© Igor Siwanowicz

But it's not just about the cool-headed rigours of science; Siwanowicz says that his work offers a "creative outlet" in a demanding field. "[T]he magic happens in a split second where you press the shutter," explains Siwanowicz. "You're not dwelling in the past, or thinking about the future. You're in the moment. It was very therapeutic for me." For more, check out Wired and Igor Siwanowicz.

Tags: Animals | Artists | Arts | Photography

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