Worlds Unseen

Images from MU's Electron Microscopy Core show the stunning complexity of everyday things.

by Charles E. Reineke

At MU's Electron Microscopy Core facility, a suite of rooms buried in the bowels of a non-descript East Campus research facility, strange new worlds emerge from unlikely places. Plant pollens become orbs spinning above an alien landscape, a human hair the rocky span above a depthless void, and flying insects the monstrous stuff of tortured sleep.

Invented in the 1930s, electron microscopes overcame the limitations of light microscopes by using a beam of electrons to produce images of prepared samples. Then, as now, they work by either transmission, passing electrons through a prepared specimen, or scanning, using a grid pattern to pass electrons over the specimen's surface. Both render, in stunning detail, the hidden features of virtually any substance imaginable. These images were provided by Randy Tindall, a senior electron microscopy specialist at the MU facility. They were colorized, in consultation with the microscopists who made them, by Illumination's art director Blake Dinsdale.