A false-color photomicrograph of a neuron, a key component of the central nervous system.

A false-color photomicrograph of a neuron, a key component of the central nervous system.

Image credit: Thomas Deernick / National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research

The hidden beauties unlocked by photomicrographs

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    Image credit: Thomas Deernick / National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research

    Founded in 1988, the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research has established itself as a leader in photomicroscopy. In addition to helping develop new technologies to further the field, it's made important scientific discoveries of its own. In the early 21st century, its work on protoplasmic astrocytes redefined our understanding of their place in the brain. To the layperson, browsing through its images -- many of which are available to view online -- is simply a treasure.

    The false-colored image above is of a cultured neuron (nerve cell), taken by Thomas Deerinck. Neurons detect and pass on information from sensory cells and other nerve cells by way of its dendrites (the branching extensions coming out from the nucleus). The dendrites are covered with Filopodia, which in the body would connect to other cells. It was taken with a scanning electron microscope that, as the name suggests, captures images by scanning subjects with a focused beam of electrons.

    For more photomicrographs, you can visit the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research's gallery page. We'd recommend starting with confocal images of retinas, also captured by Deerinck:

    The Big Picture is a recurring feature highlighting beautiful images that tell big stories. We explore topics as large as our planet, or as small as a single life, as affected by or seen through the lens of technology.

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