Diatom Art


Diatoms are one of several groups of algae which biomineralize silicate. Deposition of silicate results in rigid, opaline cell walls which can take on a complex variety of geometric shapes. Their beauty has delighted generations of researchers, and diatoms are studied by hobbyists as well as professionals. In Victorian times, it was a popular pastime to painstakingly mount cleaned shells, or frustules on permanent slides and admire their intricate structure. The most spectacular manifestation of this endeavor was the creation of "arranged" slides - microscopic pictures only a millimeter or two across, made out of individually placed diatom shells (sometimes embellished with butterfly scales). Although the resin in which they were mounted often deteriorates with age (thus destroying the picture), antique slides still exist in both personal and museum collections. Creation of arranged diatoms slides is almost (but not quite) a lost art. Mr. Klaus Kemp/Microlife Services (England) makes both traditional and contemporary (e.g. a flag) designs, which can be purchased for your own collection!

 

 

Slide from the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia - photo by Jan Rines

 

Slide from the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia - photo by Jan Rines

 

Slide from the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia - photo by Jan Rines

 

Slide from the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia - photo by Jan Rines

 

 

Slide from the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia - photo by Jan Rines

 

Here's a reference for further reading:

Fields, K. & M. Kontrovitz (1980) - An invisible art blazes into life under the microscope. Smithsonian 11(7): 108-113.


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updated: 4 December 2000