Breathtaking Microscopic Images of Everyday Objects [Gallery]

NEW YORK | Friday, January 14th, 2011 7:09am EDT

Using one of the world’s most powerful microscope – a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) – scientists have revealed the characteristics in miniature, giving a tour of the everyday objects as a tiny new world.

  • Mascara brush. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the bristles of a mascara brush, used for applying make-up to the eyelashes. Magnification: x4 at 5x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryMascara brush. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the bristles of a mascara brush, used for applying make-up to the eyelashes. Magnification: x4 at 5x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Guitar string. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of "superwound" guitar string (piano wire design). Magnification: x60 at 6x7cm size. x148 at 8x6",x78 at 10x7cm master size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryGuitar string. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of "superwound" guitar string (piano wire design). Magnification: x60 at 6x7cm size. x148 at 8x6",x78 at 10x7cm master size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a hooks and loops fastener. It is a two-sheet material that is used as a reversible fastener on clothing and fabrics. One sheet consists of hooks (pink), the other of loops (brown). When the two sheets are pressed together, the hooks attach to the loops, giving a secure grip but one that can be easily undone. Magnification: x15 at 6x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryColoured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a hooks and loops fastener. It is a two-sheet material that is used as a reversible fastener on clothing and fabrics. One sheet consists of hooks (pink), the other of loops (brown). When the two sheets are pressed together, the hooks attach to the loops, giving a secure grip but one that can be easily undone. Magnification: x15 at 6x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of dental plaque on strands of used dental floss. Plaque consists of a film of bacteria embedded in a glycoprotein matrix. The matrix is formed from bacterial secretions and saliva. Plaque is the main cause of tooth decay. The bacteria feed on sugars in food, producing acid as a waste product. This acid corrodes the teeth's enamel coating, resulting in dental caries. A build-up of dental plaque can also lead to inflamed and infected gums. Severe gum disease can lead to teeth falling out. Magnification: x525 when printed at 10 centimetres wide. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryColoured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of dental plaque on strands of used dental floss. Plaque consists of a film of bacteria embedded in a glycoprotein matrix. The matrix is formed from bacterial secretions and saliva. Plaque is the main cause of tooth decay. The bacteria feed on sugars in food, producing acid as a waste product. This acid corrodes the teeth's enamel coating, resulting in dental caries. A build-up of dental plaque can also lead to inflamed and infected gums. Severe gum disease can lead to teeth falling out. Magnification: x525 when printed at 10 centimetres wide. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • lt grains and ground peppercorn, coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM). Each salt (sodium chloride) crystal (white) is composed of a cubic lattice of sodium and chloride ions. Peppercorn (brown) is the dried fruit from the black pepper (Piper nigram) plant. Here, it has been ground into fine particles. Both salt and pepper are commonly used as seasoning in cooking. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Librarylt grains and ground peppercorn, coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM). Each salt (sodium chloride) crystal (white) is composed of a cubic lattice of sodium and chloride ions. Peppercorn (brown) is the dried fruit from the black pepper (Piper nigram) plant. Here, it has been ground into fine particles. Both salt and pepper are commonly used as seasoning in cooking. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Torn postage stamp. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a torn perforation from the edge of a postage stamp. Magnification: x26 at 6x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryTorn postage stamp. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a torn perforation from the edge of a postage stamp. Magnification: x26 at 6x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Computer hard disk read/write head. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the read and write electromagnetic device (head) of the hard disk of a computer. Computers store data on magnetic media, with the polarity of the magnetism (up or down) corresponding to the one or zero of computing binary code. An electromagnet (grey block, upper left) is magnetised using electricity from the wires seen at lower centre. It is then used to alter the magnetism of the disk, writing data onto it. This device also reads data from the disk. The hard disk (seen in background) rotates. The head moves radially above the disk to access all parts. Magnification: x20 at 6x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryComputer hard disk read/write head. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the read and write electromagnetic device (head) of the hard disk of a computer. Computers store data on magnetic media, with the polarity of the magnetism (up or down) corresponding to the one or zero of computing binary code. An electromagnet (grey block, upper left) is magnetised using electricity from the wires seen at lower centre. It is then used to alter the magnetism of the disk, writing data onto it. This device also reads data from the disk. The hard disk (seen in background) rotates. The head moves radially above the disk to access all parts. Magnification: x20 at 6x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Coloured Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM) of the eye of a needle, threaded with red cotton. The cotton appears as a bundle of fibres, some of which have bunched up and become tangled next to the needle's eye. Magnification: x16 at 35mm size; x32 at 5x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryColoured Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM) of the eye of a needle, threaded with red cotton. The cotton appears as a bundle of fibres, some of which have bunched up and become tangled next to the needle's eye. Magnification: x16 at 35mm size; x32 at 5x7cm size. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Refined and raw sugar crystals, scanning electron micrograph (SEM). The smaller crystal is refined. Magnification x85 at 10cm wide. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryRefined and raw sugar crystals, scanning electron micrograph (SEM). The smaller crystal is refined. Magnification x85 at 10cm wide. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Toothbrush bristles, coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM). These bristles are designed to be used in tooth brushing to remove food debris and dental plaque from teeth. This helps to avoid tooth decay. Magnification: x40 when printed at 10 centimetres across. Photo: Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo LibraryToothbrush bristles, coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM). These bristles are designed to be used in tooth brushing to remove food debris and dental plaque from teeth. This helps to avoid tooth decay. Magnification: x40 when printed at 10 centimetres across. Photo: Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library
  • Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of ear wax (brown) collected on cotton bud fibres (green). Ear wax forms in the ear canal, which runs between the outer ear and the ear drum. Ear wax, or cerumen, is produced by glands in the wall of the ear canal. It prevents the entry of bacteria and foreign objects that could damage the ear. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo LibraryColoured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of ear wax (brown) collected on cotton bud fibres (green). Ear wax forms in the ear canal, which runs between the outer ear and the ear drum. Ear wax, or cerumen, is produced by glands in the wall of the ear canal. It prevents the entry of bacteria and foreign objects that could damage the ear. Photo: Power And Syred/Science Photo Library
  • Graphite pencil core. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the core of a graphite pencil. This core is made up of graphite, mixed with clay and water and pressed into a rod shape. Because graphite is a soft form of carbon, the tip of the pencil disintegrates under pressure to leave marks on paper. Magnification: x25 when printed 10cm high. Photo: Susumu Nishinaga/Science Photo LibraryGraphite pencil core. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the core of a graphite pencil. This core is made up of graphite, mixed with clay and water and pressed into a rod shape. Because graphite is a soft form of carbon, the tip of the pencil disintegrates under pressure to leave marks on paper. Magnification: x25 when printed 10cm high. Photo: Susumu Nishinaga/Science Photo Library
  • Toilet paper fibres. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a mesh of fibres from toilet paper. Paper mostly consists of a mesh of softened and pulped wood fibres. Photo: Susumu Nishinaga/Science Photo LibraryToilet paper fibres. Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a mesh of fibres from toilet paper. Paper mostly consists of a mesh of softened and pulped wood fibres. Photo: Susumu Nishinaga/Science Photo Library

There are  a lot of innocuous objects that are dotted around every house. Scientists, using the world’s most expensive kind of microscope, a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), have revealed the hidden secrets of them – and it doesn’t always make for comfortable viewing. The images are of items found in various domestic settings, from the bathroom to the kitchen.

SEMs work by bombarding the object with electrons and then build extreme close-ups of the image using a computer and transmission electro microscopes. The images are produced in monochrome and then hand-tinted to enrich their detail.

SEMs are far more powerful than regular light microscopes that can only magnify by up to 1,000 times. For this reason the electron microscope, which can magnify up to a million times, is popular with scientists and artists alike.

Retired scientific photographer Steve Gschmeissner is grateful that he still has access to an SEM – their high price tag makes them unaffordable to all but the most wealthy enthusiast. “For anyone involved in microscopy the SEM is the ultimate boy’s toy,” said Steve Gschmeissner.

“Costing between $250,000 and $800,000, there are only a handful of people around the world who have access to this for fun. To be able to use equipment like this when I am retired is a dream come true. The SEM picks up basically where the normal light microscope finishes.”

He continued: “And it takes it so much further by magnifying the specimen by up to a million times. Also different to a regular microscope is the fact the SEM builds a 3D image giving you a unique view.”

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