Category Archives: microscopy

a collection of postings regarding the technologies and techniques used in microscopy and in the practice of looking at the microscopic and beyond

electron microscopy

An introduction to Electron Microscopy lecture by Eva Nogales

Visualizing Biological Structure using Electron Microscopy: from Molecules to Cells

data visualization

The Grigorieff Lab at Brandeis University, a facility that uses high-resolution electron microscopy (EM) to study the three-dimensional (3D) structure of proteins and protein complexes. here are more information about the activity of the lab 






a question of scale

an educational interactive animation disseminated by the Genetics Learning Center at the University of Utah, comparing different particles and microscopic entities.


A more recent introduction in microscopy, the Scanning Electron Microscope

uses a focused beam of high-energy electrons to generate a variety of signals at the surface of solid specimens (from

A video from the Wellcome collection


Transmission Electron Microscope.

TEMs use electrons as “light source” and their much lower wavelength makes it possible to get a resolution a thousand times better than with a light microscope(from the Nobel Prize website)

Hypothesized in 1929 by Knoll and Ruska at the Technische Hochschule, it was first built in 1932. A North American prototype of the transmission electron microscope (TEM) was constructed starting in 1937 at the University of Toronto. For a detailed account of the history and the politics involved in its construction and its initial and later applications see Rasmussen, N, in Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 1996






Caitlin Berrigam

built as a multipart project and a MA thesis at MIT, Caitlin Berrigam’s  “Life Cycle of a common weed” explores the encounters between plants and humans through the interface of blood. In this case, blood, we soon realize, carries the hepatitis C virus, an element that immediately becomes an inadvertent protagonist in this project.

The presence of the virus is felt throughout the project  through its appearance as  a chocolate truffle faithfully reproduced “from a magnified 3D cryoelectron micrograph” found in the Protein Data Bank, to test the spectator’s “desire to eat the enticing chocolates mixed with a repulsion for the infectious virus”; it is found printed on “letters to a virus”; it’s molecular shape is used to build domes wherein to engage in constructive conversations etc… there is enough material to challenge  popular assumptions of contagion and virus-human coexistence .

Caitlin Birrigam, Viral Confections, 2007

Caitlin Birrigam, Letter to a Virus, 2007

The accuracy of the appearances and the material used, chocolate, unavoidably triggers anxiety regarding Hepatitis C and its means of transmission. The edible form of this particular representation exposes the uncanny familiarity and ubiquity of this virus, with which many people often silently and secretly, sometimes unknowingly, coexist.

technologies as convergence

Van Loon points out that, if technoscience is driven by a desire for the “colonization of the unknown,” it can only do so by

creating another remainder: this remainder is none other than an index, which defies visualization (Van Loon 2002, p. 108).

The technologies used are responsible too for confirming such reminder, by simultaneously revealing, and building distance from the virus. By staining, magnifying, visualizing viruses trough a microscope, we are attempting to understand the subject and, thus, to neutralize our fear of what such invisible agent is capable of doing. By passing the object through a microscope we get data which then are processed and visualized or animated thanks to software and hardware. Paradoxically, the very technologies that should reveal, by displaying viruses (thus contributing to eliminate the fear they cause) end up making them disappear under multiple layers of technology and interpretations. At the same time, this series of translations and technological layering are generators of creativity, as a  diverse range of techniques and methodologies are continuously added to achieve different goals: aesthetic, medical, plain scientific, or methods that are just abiding to conventions dictated by popular culture.  By continuously iterating the idea of knowledge as both boundary-crossing and boundary-building, these technologies simultaneously reflect and reinforce both anxieties and curiosity engendered by the invisible and the microscopic.