Scanning Electron Microscope Photography
Photography with a million dollar camera.
Students were given access to a million-dollar scanning electron microscope at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). The microscope is capable of photographing at high levels of microscopic zoom, and the resulting image looks like the landscape of an alien world.
You can view the original project documentation on the class website.
I scanned a little purple pebble picked from the dirt of a potted plant from the Zebra Lounge, a café in the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University. The microscope uses electrons to scan surfaces and create images and textures of the object. Even slight vibrations in the surrounding facility can blur or skew scans! I also learned that to scan using this microscope, a special liquid needs to be added on the speciment, which acts as a "ground" for the electron that don't bounce back to the device. This prevents a build up of charged static, or "unintended light" in the images.
I also found what the expert in the lab thought might be bacterial colonies. The left shows a possible mucus excreted by the bacteria to “contain” them in a moist environment.
A low level zoom showing paint cracks.
In addition to the cracked paint, I found what could be carbonate crystals, possibly from the plant itself, according to the expert in the lab. The image above is an example of the carbonate build-up on top of the paint.
A close-up view of the crystals.
Here is the edge of the pebble, near the top where there may be carbon buildup. It creates a sort of landscape.
A zoomed out view showing the specimen in the surrounding dish.
Images of objects scanned by this microscope at this scale appear black and white because even the shortest color wavelength, purple, is 400nn while this microscope can scan to levels as small as 10nn!