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article imageVideo: Marvellous arrangements of single-cell aquatic organisms

By Igor I. Solar     Oct 2, 2014 in Entertainment
Diatom specialist Klaus Kemp arranges unicellular algae into complex patterns only visible under magnification.The technique dating from the Victorian era mixes science and art to reveal the astounding beauty of some of the smallest organisms on Earth.
The quest for beauty and harmony using natural elements has motivated humans to seek knowledge of plant species and the best ways to present them either in display gardens or artistic arrangements.
The baroque garden was developed in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During that time, gardeners applied concepts and designs mostly based on geometric shapes. The prototype was the French garden, also called classical or formal, characterized by the abundance of decorative details and the almost symmetrical distribution of its elements.
Something similar happened since antiquity with the development of the Japanese Garden in which natural objects such as rocks and sand, are pleasantly arranged to highlight the beauty of stone lanterns, trees, plants, ferns and mosses to create an environment that combines beauty and serenity.
Historically, decorative gardens presented elements that could be readily observed and appreciated. However, since the invention of the microscope in the sixteenth century, interest began on the research and display of organisms normally invisible to the naked eye. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the stability, ease of use, and optic quality of microscopic instruments increased significantly allowing the observation and handling of the delicate structures of unicellular organisms.
During the Victorian era, British scientists began to use the microscope combining their knowledge and the jewel-like beauty of unicellular diatoms to create beautiful arrangements, similar to tiny gardens, on microscopic glass slides to create true works of art visible only with optic instruments.
Currently, the creation of diatoms’ microscopic “gardens” is reduced to a single known person, Klaus D. Kemp, Microlife Services, of Somerset in Southwest England, who learnt about the diatom arrangements of the Victorian era and embarked on a lifelong pursuit on the study of aquatic microscopic plants and the creation of diatom arrangements.
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from  The Diatomist   docume...
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from "The Diatomist", documentary video by Matthew Killip.
Matthew Killip
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from  The Diatomist   docume...
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from "The Diatomist", documentary video by Matthew Killip.
Matthew Killip
Today, Klaus Kemp’s works are among the most delicate and intricate being made. He is recognized as the last great specialist of this exquisite combination of art and science. His work has recently been showcased in a short documentary video called “The Diatomist” made by Matthew Killip, an English filmmaker living in New York. The video shows where Klaus Kemp finds his material, the techniques used to create his incredible arrangements, and several examples of his remarkable kaleidoscopic compositions.
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from  The Diatomist   docume...
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from "The Diatomist", documentary video by Matthew Killip.
Matthew Killip
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from  The Diatomist   docume...
Microscopic unicellular algae arrangements by Klaus Kemp. Still capture from "The Diatomist", documentary video by Matthew Killip.
Matthew Killip
What are diatoms?
Diatoms are microscopic unicellular algae common in marine and freshwater environments, but also they can be found in rocks and soil. There are about 100,000 species of diatoms. Some diatoms exist as colonies in the form of filaments or ribbons.
Diatoms range in size from 2 to 200 micrometers. Their cell wall is composed primarily of silica which can be highly decorated with a variety of pores, ribs, spines, ridges and elevations. These delicate structures can be used to identify and classify them in genera and species.
The cell consists of two halves. One half, called the hypotheca, is slightly smaller than the other half, the epitheca. The shape of diatoms species varies. Some are circular, but certain species are triangular, square, star-shaped or elliptical.
Diatoms are photosynthetic meaning they are able to absorb light energy through pigments and convert it into chemical energy. This process releases oxygen as a waste product, thus photosynthetic organisms maintain atmospheric oxygen levels and are primary producers of the organic compounds and most of the energy essential for life on Earth. The coloration of diatoms depends on the pigments they carry. Major pigments of diatoms are chlorophyll (green), beta-carotene (red-orange), and fucoxanthin (brown or olive-green).
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Note: I thank my colleague and friend Dr. J. N. Navarro, a diatom specialist from Ponce, Puerto Rico, who brought to my attention the work of Klaus Kemp and the beauty of the video “The Diatomist”.
More about The Diatomist, Klaus Kemp, Unicellular algae, Diatoms, Matthew Killip
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