“There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom“, ~ Richard Feynman (referring to NanoTechnology).
There are huge life scales in our world with which we are not acquainted to. While some prefer to wonder about “alien life” on movie theaters simultaneously eating popcorn, right here at Planet Earth, some lakes and rivers are full of them. What you see above is a tiny water flea ‘Crown Thorns‘ photographed by zoologist Jan Michels (Christian Albrecht University in Kiel, Germany). It was nominated as the best microscopic life image of 2009, last week, at BioScapes (short for Biological landscapes – a competition sponsored by Olympus in order to recognize microscope photos of plants, animals, and other life-forms that capture the “fascinating minutia of life”).
The snaking ridge at top left took top honors in the 2009 BioScapes microscope imaging contest. If water flea parents sense that their habitat is shared by their main predators, tadpole shrimp, the flea offspring sport these pointy crowns – which are unappetizing to the shrimp. Jan Michels, added a dye to reveal the tiny animal’s exoskeleton (green) and cellular nuclei (blue smudges). The blue-and-red dots are one of the animal’s compound eyes, like those of a fly.
This image, kind of remembers me of another one I used in the past for a series of Artificial Intelligence conferences I have held in the past, during 2004 (Budapest, Hungary), 2005 (Muroran, Japan) and 2006 (Jinan, China) (SIP workshop series – Swarm Intelligence and Patterns). This image below was used as the conference symbol; a termite head scanned trough SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) taken by University of Toronto, Canada.
But probably one of the images I most love at this nano-scale is one of a red ant grabbing a tiny electronic circuit board (microchip) on his mouth (Science Museum, UK). Reason is simple. This image (below) could have several readings. By using SEM, image is formed by focusing an electron beam onto the sample surface. As the beam scans across the surface the sample emits secondary electrons which are then detected and used to modulate the image signal much like a television. More electrons is translated into a brighter image. As the beam scans the surface each point is mapped out just as the electron beam in a television maps the image onto the screen. Here we are able to see all the details of one of natures smallest denizens holding one of mankind’s smallest creations, a silicon microchip (the building blocks of digital electronics).
What’s funny is that ant colonies are known (among many other interesting features) for their remarkable cemetery organization capabilities, that is, their sequential clustering task of corpses and objects (as this microchip below). Ant colonies do show that the coordination and regulation of building activities do not depend on the workers themselves but are mainly achieved by the nest structure: a stimulating object configuration triggers the response of a termite worker, transforming the configuration into another configuration that may trigger in turn another (possibly different) action performed by the same termite or any other worker in the colony.
Ants do all this by simple manipulating objects using stigmergic capabilities. Ants form piles of items such as dead bodies (corpses), larvae, or grains of sand. Initially, they deposit items at random locations. When other ants perceive deposited items, they are stimulated to deposit items next to them, being this type of cemetery clustering action, organization, and brood sorting a type of self-organization and adaptive behavior. Some bio-inspired branches of computer science use this kind of behaviors to solve highly complex problems, such as Data Mining, Data analysis and classification, Data clustering, Image retrieval, among many others.
Indeed, life on its own is the ultimate science-fiction. And, as Richard Feynman mentioned once, there is plenty of room below!