Day 10: Images from our beautiful world

“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.” William Blake

Last night I watched the film Samsara. Directed by Ron Fricke, this was filmed over nearly five years in twenty five countries across the world, giving us a kaleidoscope of images from disaster zones, sacred sites and natural wonders. Watching it is like a meditation; I left the cinema in a trance, awestruck at the reminder of how precious our planet is. Today, I was inspired to search TED using the terms, ‘Beautiful World’ and I found Gary Greenberg’s talk, ’The Beautiful Nano Details of our World’.
Unfortunately this was far from meditative. Gary Greenberg is an extremely talented photographer, filmmaker and biomedical researcher holding the patents for 18 different 3D light microscopes. He uses these to capture the images held from everyday perception, a micro world hidden within a grain of sand, a human hair or the petal of a flower. For a topic this fascinating and vivid, Greenberg is a completely unanimated speaker.
The main draw of this talk lies, as it should, in the photography. Greenberg shows us the naked eye view of things we recognise; the bee for example. Looking at the bee through one of his microscopes, we see the true details; the thousands of individual eyes (ommatidia) contained within what is seemingly one eye, the sensory hairs within the eye as they are unable to see in stereo. Next he shows us the human hair, which at about a tenth of a millimetre is about the smallest thing the eye can see. We see human cells such as the nervous tissue; he shows us the ant inside a tiny flower.
The most amazing images here are in a simple grain of sand. I’ve included some below. Each sand grain is about a tenth of a millimetre in size, yet when one looks at it through a microscope, every piece looks completely different. A grain of sand from beside an African river in a mining country may seem as if it is full of jewels; sand from Maui has microshells, coral, volcano, olivine; sand from near Big Sur looks like precious stones; sand from the moon is filled with micrometeorites. Greenberg discusses how the difference between ‘moon sand’ and ‘earth sand’ is due to the presence of powder on the moon as a result of four million years of its bombardment with micrometeorites. Sand on the moon can be 3.5 to 4 billion years old and will not erode like sand on the earth does due to water, air, etc.
Rather than watching this talk, I would suggest a better idea is to look at some of Greenberg’s images online; has a good selection and he has published several books. Or for a truly contemplative TED talk, look at Frans Lanting’s, ‘The Story of Life in Photographs’, a beautiful narrative slideshow of nature photography set to music in which stromatolites are the hero of the story.


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