Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Art in scientific research, part 2

The fact that I use AFM a lot at work is obvious. Some colleagues joke around (or maybe it wasn’t a joke) and say that whenever I’m in the lab, I’m ALWAYS on the AFM, and that was quite true for a period of time. AFM is such a useful scientific technique for my field of research, yet it can get SO DAMN FRUSTRATING sometimes. You might spend half a day calibrating the apparatus and get a weak signal without any useful data on any given day, but when the AFM is in a good mood, you turn it on and BOOM – sweet, sweet data. And data is like food and water in academia – publish or perish, and without data, be ready to perish.

I’m not going to explain the nitty-gritty details about how an AFM (which by the way stands for atomic force microscopy) works and how you can get funky information about the composition, elasticity, roughness, force, etc. of a surface. It is a pretty neat technique that basically allows you to visualize a surface at the nano-scale…i.e. very, very, very small…

…but the point is you get pretty pictures. Maybe not exactly what you expected to see or wanted to get, but it’s art, doubtlessly. Sometimes images containing useful data are actually those that look quite plain and boring, but in the process of acquiring those images, you end up with some unexpected “noise” that is rather…interesting, shall we say. I’ve already shown you some of them in part 1, and since then I’ve gotten many more scans that are worthy of being in my “scientific art” collection. Let’s see whether your interpretation of the following images agrees with mine 😉

This is really one of my favourites – a nano-turtle (left)! Well, zoom out a bit and you can actually see a family of turtles (right) – the father, the mother, and the son 🙂 Indeed I have some friends who are crazy about turtles and they would be happy to know that turtles are taking over the world…even the microscopic world of nanotechnology!

This I’m not even sure what it is. An empty letter Y in the middle of a network of proteins? In fact, the network appears exactly as it should, but the Y is certainly unplanned. You know, I think this is a worthy candidate as part of a new logo for Yahoo! 😉

Here’s one that’s slightly explosive. At first glance, it seemed like the top view of a tranquil volcano with no sign of erupting any time soon but as the Little Prince always says, “You never know”. Though I haven’t been to Mount Fuji, I can’t help but be convinced that this is what it would look like from a helicopter hovering over it.

These two images represent the exact same thing in different formats. To me it looked like some sort of flower growing in the desert or a SIX-LEAF clover. Do I get extra luck now that I’ve discovered this rare beauty!?

Finally, an image – or rather, GIF animation – of something that wasn’t from an AFM. I was using a fluorescence microscope to take images of protein networks (similar to the one above with the empty Y) and noticed a gradient of focus points that I thought would make an interesting animation. So I played around with it a bit and here’s what I ended up with. It looks like an optical illusion more than anything, or like something that I could stare at all day and just go, “Oooooh! Aaaaah!” Oh, the wonders of science!

This ends part 2 but eventually there will be more posts in this series as I’m SURE I will get more “interesting” images through my experiments. The day that I get perfect results in every experiment I do will be the day that science does not work anymore… 😉


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