Why, Diatom Art, of course!
Each section in the photograph above is a microscopic diatom shell. Diatoms are phytoplankton, or microalgae. Their shells are made primarily of silica, which is also the main ingredient in glass. The intricate and beautiful pore patterns, evident in the photograph, allow nutrients to enter and waste products to exit. Diatom art was popular among microscopists in the 1800s, in Victorian England. The diatom shells were placed on a small glass slide in a slurry of slow setting glue. The artist manipulated each shell with a human hair into perfect position while looking through a microscope. Microscopists competed with one another for the best designs and their creations were popular collectors’ items. An Englishman named Klaus Kemp is the only remaining practitioner of this amazing art form!
There are thousands of species of diatoms in both marine and fresh water. They have chlorophyll, just like land plants, and form the base of the food web in aquatic environments. Like land plants, they use carbon dioxide and energy from the sun to produce their own food. The oxygen they release as a waste product provides about 50% of the oxygen in our atmosphere! Over millions of years, in warm shallow seas, the shells settle out and eventually form layers of a soft sedimentary rock called diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth has many commercial uses such as filters in swimming pools, fine abrasives in products such as toothpaste and metal polish, and non-chemical insecticides. There is an active diatomaceous earth mine in Lompoc.