Science Mystery Pix

Science Mystery Pix

Art or Nature?: This beautiful image reminds me of the art of Van Gogh: Willows at Sunset (, perhaps? But it’s actually a photomicrograph of an insect part. Can you guess what it may be? Hint: it’s useful during aquatic sex 🙂 

Rheinberg Illumination: This image was colorized using a form of microscopy invented in 1896 by Julius Rheinberg. Quite simply, a two colored filter, usually cut from sheets of acetate, is placed in front of the light source. One color makes up the background while the other is diffracted by the object under study. It’s a cheap and creative way to bring art into science! A nice explanation can be found here:

Photo credit: Spike Walker / Wellcome Images

#ScienceEveryday    #ISeeTheWorldWithScience  

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85 Responses to Science Mystery Pix

  1. Like this explanation of what makes sense in scientific study and color visualization.

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    BJ Bolender as a photographer, have you experimented with colored filters? I guess they are only used in microscopes?

  3. Satish Kumar says:

    nice 2 share from uuuuuuuuuu

  4. Well, I am slowly getting up the nerve to experiment with ND filters, Neutral Density, which cut the severe and sharp contrasts of light and shadow.  But I am intrigued by the use of colored filters as the colored gel leaves one holds in front of the lens.  Most of my play in color would be from use of photo editing.  I wonder how helpful expertise in photo editing software could be for scientific photography?  After all, one can select colors to drop out or replace with the software.

  5. Bill Carter says:

    Very interesting Rajini Rao! I had not heard of this technique. I use Schlerien photography to image slight changes in refractive index. This should work for changes in absorbance. Will try!

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    There is a lot of sophisticated photo editing and use of false color in scientific photography, although there are strict ground rules and ethics to follow so that the effect is only for visualization. 

  7. BTW, since a camera can “see” far more colors than a human eye, I often find I work hard in Photoshop to bring the full frame images more in line with what my human eyes see and remember.  I would have to think that photographic research would have a side branch specifically devoted to uses in photography to benefit the study at hand.  There could be development of camera sensors and technology targeted only for such intensively micro and macroscopic images.

  8. Rajini Rao says:

    BJ Bolender , indeed there are dedicated Imaging Centers and Microscopy Cores at research institutions with quite an array of technology (2 photon microscope, confocal laser scanning microscopes, etc) with dedicated technical personnel who help us with both the software, quantification and the image acquisition. 

  9. John Kampsen says:

    Great stuff, Rajini Rao , my friend.

    Art imitates life imitates Art :-}

  10. I’m interested in the ethics issues of such scientific photography.  Surely there is a place for enhanced software and scientific visualization that includes specifically what a human eye cannot “see”.  And I think it must go beyond just “power” and the degree of magnification.

    What I imagine is like the software visualizations that can translate color into sound.  I heard a great story on NPR last night about an astronomer who studies dying stars and is researching image translation to sound.  There were symphonies and specific peaks and chorus sounds with each data point!

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    BJ Bolender , ethics training in image handling is crucial in science! I know of people who have lost their jobs, had their papers retracted and banned from federal funding because of improper image manipulation. For example, the image has to be manipulated as a whole and one cannot selectively choose a particular part to enhance or lighten.

    Love the idea of matching images to sounds! I remember a post on the sounds picked up in outer space..let me see if I can find it. I’ll check out the NPR story, thanks. 

  12. Rajini Rao says:

    John Kampsen I knew you would appreciate this, and what an apt caption! 

  13. Rajini Rao only because I’m “Scientific American” subscriber and photography lover ( I do it 44 years) I know what it is. Photo won some award 5 or so years ago.. I was so suprised by what it was that I still remember. 🙂

    Clue: part of a water beetle.

  14. Adit Morey says:

    The Rheinberg illumination is a method which has revolutionized microbibiology.

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Leszek Dziędziewicki , that’s how I found it too. From there, I learned a lot about “gas gills” which are fascinating structures that allow this water beetle to be submerged for a long time. If only I can find a nice image of this “plastron”, I will write up a post on it. 

  16. Brent Neal says:

    My view on the ethics of image processing is that all is fair game – but your procedures must be documented for peer review. No different that using any other reductive analysis tool (NMR, FTIR, etc.) – if another scientist can’t repeat your work, then it is suspect. And if you can’t get confirmatory results via a different measurement technique, then it is suspect.

  17. Jim Donegan says:

    False colour is a great way to visually differentiate finely detailed structure in lots of areas including such diverse things as brain scans and cosmic microwave background detection. There is a reason why our visual systems have evolved to make specific use of certain perceived colours.

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Brent Neal , good points about documentation and reproducibility. Hopefully, the image/data don’t need much processing to make one’s point. False colors are a good example of a legitimate use, Jim Donegan . The problems arise when one manipulates one part of the image relative to the other. Sadly, I’m on an ethical committee investigating a case of improper image manipulation right now. It’s a pain for everyone concerned. 

  19. Bob Calder says:

    Using the same palette shouldn’t cause jubilation. Using Photoshop, you use what they call “color channels” to manipulate a palette. You can then borrow a CLUT from another image and put it in a suitable target.

  20. Brent Neal says:

    Rajini Rao – The issue is that at times you do have to process some parts of the image relative to others. For example, in the cases of segmentation, to do greyscale/binary morphological operations in order to correctly measure the aggregate feature area, or in the cases of densitometry, to measure pixel values in the appropriate regions of the image, rather than globally across the whole image (which would bias or invalidate your results.) 

    While I agree that the best image processing is the least necessary to do the appropriate measurement (and that the best place to do your image processing is during sample prep,) your images aren’t going to measure themselves and you shouldn’t throw away data arbitrarily.

  21. Rajini Rao says:

    Brent Neal measuring pixels or some feature is fine. I was referring to enhancing or masking one part of an image relative to the others to falsify the results. For example, we separate out bands of protein and quantify them in response to a particular experimental condition. If all the bands are cranked up or down in intensity that is okay, but one cannot partially brighten one set of them without doing the same for the rest. This is the most common form of fraud in molecular biology. 

  22. Brent Neal says:

    Rajini Rao – I’m sorry, I must not have been very clear. I was writing in a hurry. Of course measurement is fine, because it doesn’t alter the image. But the point is that in order to make good measurements, you often have to process the image in non-uniform ways.

    Again, if your author had made the original images available and the procedures by which he/she had processed them, any fraud would be easy to catch. What you describe is nothing different that the “peak scrubbing” incidents that we’ve seen on the chemistry side with NMR spectra.

  23. Rajini Rao says:

    Interesting, Brent Neal ! I’ll have to tease quiz my friends in the NMR field about this “peak scrubbing” 🙂 

  24. Brent Neal says:

    ChemBark had a great post on it back last summer.

  25. It is human nature to make art; therefore, art is nature. 

  26. Bill Collins says:

    I cannot guess, however I can marvel at the beauty of it. I thought for a moment I was in a cathedral. Then I thought I was staring into the eye of something greater than I was. Finally I settled upon being in a  museum, looking at a grand painting upon the wall.

  27. Marta Rauch says:

    Fascinating image. Thank you Rajini Rao

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    The image shows the suckers on the front leg of the male diving beetle. Dytiscus marginalis, commonly known as the great diving beetle. At the top right is part of a large sucker and on the left are five rows of smaller ones. Diving beetles spend most of their time, and mate, under water. 


  29. Jonah Miller says:

    Image manipulation in astronomy is a big deal too, because so many of the relevant colors are outside of the visible spectrum. One approach often used is “shift” the colors into the visible, which makes for some very striking images.

    I think this is one reason astronomy pictures have become so popular.

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    Jonah Miller – it’s the equivalent of false coloring in microscope images. 

    For those who were wondering about BJ Bolender ‘s reference to the NPR story on “hearing” the spectrum from stars, here is Jonah’s post on it:

  31. Jonah Miller says:

    Oops! Yes, that makes sense! Thanks for the correction. 🙂

  32. Rajini Rao says:

    It wasn’t a correction! Just drawing parallels between different fields 🙂

  33. Rajini Rao says:

    Crystalline Reynolds , it’s yes to both (art and nature) 🙂

  34. Nature is art, and this is a prime example! 🙂

  35. Whichever, it’s beautiful.

  36. Hi Rajini, a very beautiful art! I wish you a very Happy New Year!

  37. Devin Fane says:

    Art is Nature an Nature is a Miracle and a blessing.

  38. Stuti S A I says:

    Very informative! Thanks Rajini Rao , as always!

  39. Rajini Rao says:

    Stuti S A I , the answer is buried up in the comments, so in case  you missed it, these are suckers on the legs of the male diving beetle, used to keep the female from getting away 🙂

  40. Stuti S A I says:

    Yes, I read it 🙂 Very unfair and male-chauvinistic on the part of these male insects!

  41. Rajini Rao says:

    Perhaps females don’t need special devices to hang on to their mates? 🙂

  42. Stuti S A I says:

    Ha! Ha! Ha! I doff my hat to science and Almighty’s intersection at creativity in the natural space.

  43. Mad B says:

    Rajini Rao Black Widows and Mantis do, but it is for devouring the mate. Another lethal case of Queen checkmate 🙂

  44. Rajini Rao says:

    Ahh, so such devices in females can have deadly consequences. Better not arm the female with more ammunition than necessary 🙂

  45. Nature’s balancing acts

  46. This is really excellent Art.

  47. They (females) control the desires from being shared by devouring after completing the required task. I am not sure if it’s a nature’s built in protection.

  48. It’s is an artistic show of human male cells attacking the egg (female)

  49. I would never have guessed even with the clues! Thanks for sharing Rajini Rao

  50. Satish Kumar says:


  51. Joan Hogol says:

    Really beautiful… even inspiring 🙂 

  52. mic sor says:

    Rajini Rao As I say, the female is the center of the universe. My own studies show that all atomic and subatomic particle is XX 😉

  53. Rajini Rao says:

    mic sor I am pleased to concur 😉

  54. Karen Katz says:

    This is not my area but i am fascinated. I apologize for the totally ignorant question but i am interested to know if the shapes as shown in this pic are a balanced pattern of like repeating shapes (composing the plastron) and sizes. Or might you suggest a reference for me to read more? Thank you

  55. Rajini Rao says:

    Karen Katz , I think you are asking if these sorts of structures are fractal, i.e., made up of similar structures on different scales? Biology is full of repeating patterns, in this case we are seeing both large and small suckers at the microscopic level. I plan to write a post on plastrons in a couple of days..I’ll talk about large and small structures that keep water from entering the air canals of insects so they continue to breathe under water. I can tag you on that post if you want. Thanks for your interest!


  56. Karen Katz says:

    Yes please do. Thank you!

  57. Rajini Rao says:

    Jeni Ong , wow, yes!! Even better fit than Van Gogh. 

  58. i  love  art.its  great

  59. ALEX R says:

    Great art… Reminds me many things..

  60. Fran Lacas says:

    Odilon redon

    World is a monster

  61. Babu Singh says:

    Waoo nice… u look really a genius i like it…


  63. Very




  64. Mostafa Goda says:

    الوان خلابه

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