Victorian Diatom Art

Victorian Diatom Art

In the mid to late 19th century, people became increasingly fascinated with science. Rising literacy led to a demand for books, and an anonymous book titled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation became the rage ( Darwin proposed his theory of natural selection. Microscopes became cheap and readily available. They were used not only for scientific discovery, but also as tools for popular entertainment. Microscope clubs popped up and amateurs made their own slides. Clever entrepreneurs took advantage of the public’s interest to make microscopic art by arranging hundreds or even thousands of tiny diatoms, butterfly scales or even beard hair (!) to generate these astonishing works of beauty. One such artist, Henry Dalton, used a boar hair and his own breath to move particles into position under a microscope. A newspaper article described him thus: “Although Dalton was dissipated, he excelled most of his imitators in this peculiar line of art” (

Source: Exhibition Mounts by Watson & Sons, London circa 1885.

Reading: Antique microscopy slides reveal obsession with science

#ScienceEveryday when it’s not  #ScienceSunday  

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100 Responses to Victorian Diatom Art

  1. Interesting and awesome posts as usual Rajini Rao … ^^

    Have a nice weekend dear !!

    I’m off to bed now … 🙂

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    Goodnight, Magnus Fahlén . Have some purr-fect dreams 🙂

  3. Thanks a lot Rajini Rao … ^^

    I’ll do my best … 😉

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Jose M. G. Guerreiro , imagine their patience! I’m glad they have survived for us to enjoy. 

  5. Tom Lee says:

    Nice post Rajini Rao

    Nice weekend to you ! 🙂

  6. Jim Carver says:

    Diatoms are important in geology. Often ancient environments can be interpreted on the numbers and particular species of diatoms present in the ancient environment. To geologists, there are two different types, those that have a silica test, and those that have a calcareous test which is the mineral calcite or calcium carbonate. The specific form of this is usually aragonite.

    Common diatoms have many uses including filtration, process substrates and sometimes in health. Diatoms can filter out toxins and have been used as de-toxifying agents in the body. HPLC analysis should be used to determine if the DE (diatomaceous earth) contains any heavy metals already. It’s a very strong filter and pulls out everything. Therefor a program of putting the minerals back is important.

  7. Rajini Rao says:

    It was my pleasure to share this unusual find, Tom Lee and E. M. N. .

  8. Rajini Rao says:

    Jim Carver , diatoms are fascinating from so many points of view..their biology, ecological significance, use in dating layer of earth in paleontology, etc. Thanks for the summary. 

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Letha McGarity , diatoms are endlessly interesting. They also act as photonic crystals, diffracting light because of their repeating patterns. They are added to cosmetics to make them iridescent. I posted some lovely scanning EM pix of them a while back:

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    Rashid Moore I guess I’d better get to making some entertaining art in my lab to help the cause 🙂

  11. Jim Carver says:

    Rashid Moore Well I think they were more interested in the wonders that were being laid before their eyes. Now, it’s about old hat and the sons and daughters of these wealthy noblemen…and they were men for the lion’s part, don’t really care about the exploration of science. Some do, but many pad their pockets on things they are just so highly temporary.

    I just don’t know how they’re gonna git into heavan like that. 🙂

  12. Jesse H says:

    Wow. I love that

  13. mary Zeman says:

    ( I see fancy needlework, of course) what neat pictures! thanks Rajini Rao !!

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    mary Zeman some of them look like buttons..”fancy work” as it is called in India. Or perhaps quilting.

  15. Deepak Gupta says:

    Nice one,, thanks Rao!!!

  16. E.E. Giorgi says:

    wow! fantastic and totally fascinating !

  17. Mary T says:

    Such an unusual and fascinating post!  Thanks Rajini Rao :-).

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    They are so delicate, I’m glad they survived more than a hundred years, Mara Rose .

  19. Rajini Rao I will be projecting these in our new planetarium at the Lower Eastside Girls Club. Gorgeous!

  20. Beautiful and interesting – and I vote yes for lab art! 🙂

  21. V Swamy says:

    We have made some multilayered nanoparticles, some of them are looking like this.

  22. I like all of your photos 🙂

  23. Rajini Rao says:

    Dave Pentecost I love the idea of projecting these on a planetarium, wow! 

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    V R Swamy , how intriguing..what was the source of nanoparticles that you used? Would be interested in learning more 🙂

  25. Marta Rauch says:

    Fascinating! Thank you Rajini Rao 🙂

  26. All beauty is destroyed by the unaestetics. Dalton can’t see some colors and most of people can’t see beauty.

  27. Rajini Rao says:

    Alfonso Ramirez unclear about your meaning?

  28. nizar M H says:

    Rajini Rao  picture feel  cool  heart

  29. Bill Collins says:

    They evoke fractals and deep space structures and rose windows in cathedrals. Wow. What a terrific set of pictures and story. Thanks!!

  30. Rajini Rao says:

    Your words bring up lovely, evocative images ..thanks Bill Collins !

  31. daniel wyatt says:

    Hi Rajini-been awhile..glad to see you’re as energetic as ever…

  32. Rajini Rao says:

    Hi daniel wyatt , good to see you back on G+. Hope your health has been well. 

  33. daniel wyatt says:

    Nice to be back..I was bragging to a couple of scientists (chemical

    engineers-young couple, one of whom describing her smoking habit,”I only

    smoke when I drink”!)…I wondered how that negated the effects?!

    I described the molecular rotary engine, the Costa Rican tree frog w/

    artificially induced eyes that may have some reactivity, thus

    possible access to the brain AND most importantly, your phenomenal skills

    as a chef.

    Anyway, not take much more of your time

    – I had my 4th surgery last week.

    – I’ve rejoined the the Planetary Society, and

    receive regular, almost daily missives from

    Emily Lakdawalla w/ effusive descriptions

    of all things planetary, as well as editing the

    sites blog-

    Lastly, I’ve been very busy keeping a schizophrenic older brother off the


    He was in a facility some 20+ yrs-that closed, and he’s been bounced from

    one place to another, as the choices for housing those who suffer mental

    illness have dwindled, basically due to cuts initiated by Ronald Reagan.

    Lawrence, my brother was at one point on the mean streets of L Angeles for

    5 days and nights, myself and LAPD searching gang enfested neighbourhoods

    at all hours-he’s 67, totally defenceless, no money, food, clothing-all

    because of lackluster monitoring at a hospital he was being evaluated by..

    That’s ’bout it

    Fun and frolic in sunny SoCal

    Good to hear from you – I’ve a lot to catch up on..your entries make great

    reading, of course, and I plan on doing so throughout the summer


  34. Rajini Rao says:

    daniel wyatt , Wow, you have your hands full.  Good luck with your brother, he sure is lucky to have you watching out for him. I can only imagine how hard it is to care for him. Hope your health gets better and many thanks for the vote of confidence re. my posts. Take care! 

  35. Doc Rajani says:

    Wow!..superb!,,, thank you so much for bringing all these out!

  36. A really interesting read. Thanks Rajini Rao 

  37. Beautiful, Amazing and Educational, as always . . . 

  38. Rajini Rao says:

    Many thanks, Ali Adelstein . Hope that spring will spring soon in Munich 🙂

  39. Rajini Rao says:

    Lovely weather report, Ali Adelstein . Daffodils emerging here in eastern US 🙂

  40. Rajini Rao, hope you’re preparing a new post for us, soon.

  41. Rajini Rao says:

    Yes, ma’am. I needed that reminder Susana M. 🙂

  42. V Swamy says:

    Rajini Rao  Mostly, I have used lipid/protamine nano particle. While we add some surface modification for functionalization the nanoparticles looks very decorative!

    Chitosan nano particles with mab against surface markers of leukemia are  also looking like this.

  43. V Swamy says:

    However, when the nanoparticle interacts with water and other poly anionic surface, the structural stability is greatly affected so that with the overall surface group and their ability to interact with their targets

  44. Rajini Rao says:

    V R Swamy these are diatoms, not nanoparticles?

  45. V Swamy says:

    Rajini Rao I am aware with the fact that these are diatoms.

    I mean to say that the new generation nanoparticles have such multilayer compartments. However, unlike diatoms, the multi layered NP structural integrity is affected by several cellular and physiological factors.

    It is too difficult (or not possible) to design a structurally/functionally stable nanoparticle like these diatoms. Nature has always the best design secret 🙂

    For example the Trans-Activator of Transcription protein in HIV that acts precisely in nanoscale during the infection.

  46. Rajini Rao says:

    Ah, okay, thanks for the context. You make a good point. 

  47. Hi Rajini, 

    i knew Diatoms were useful cleansers of water bodies, but i didnt know they were so beautiful!  –

  48. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the link on how diatoms can be used to treat sewage, Levine Lawrence . It was a great read!

  49. Rajini Rao says:

    Delighted to know that, Christina M ! 

  50. جميل جدا هذا الابداع

  51. MONICA ANICA says:

    Great information 😚 thank you

  52. MONICA ANICA says:

    Kaleidoscope 😍 thank you for the info. First time that I hear about this intricate art form

  53. #Kaleidoscopic patterns, it looks.

  54. Mandalas of delight.. sincerely. ricky

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  56. बहुत खूब।।।आर्ट हि कला का प्रतिबिब है

  57. Almost like my art that’s pretty awesome

  58. Your art is very pretty

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  62. Rj Sagor thank you.😊 I have many in Brite eye catchy colors to give a lil 3D look sort off.

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