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For the love of science 🔬

Grab your microscope! Today we’re taking a close look at art that investigates scientific concepts and processes. Art and science are very closely linked, and in many ways, the scientific process has similarities to the artistic process—both are driven by curiosity, and characterized by trial and error and attention to detail.

Color theory and pigment mixing are fairly easy examples of this relationship. But did you know that the first known photographs of snowflakes were stunning images of the crystals on a microscope slide, and were used to prove the concept that no two snowflakes are identical? Illustrations of the phenomenon of double refraction, research on fish and aquatic plantlife, and images of star trails (created by one of the pros—an astronaut) make up just some of the scholarly editions we carry. Want to learn a lil something? Read on.

Combining four of the major tests commonly performed during eye exams, the Eye Test Chart took an integrated, multicultural approach to sight assessment. The seven vertical panels that make up most of the image represent six writing systems—two styles of the Roman alphabet for English and European readers, along with Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew characters. Mayerle also included a center panel of non-alphabetic images and symbols for the illiterate, or those unable to read any of the writing systems on display. These panels tested visual acuity. Directly above them at center is a radiant dial, used to test for astigmatism, flanked by four sets of encircled lines to measure the muscular strength of the eyes. At the bottom of the Eye Test Chart, six color swatches gauged color vision, something particularly appealing to the significant number of railway and steamboat workers in the San Francisco area who’d be guided by red and green lights.

Using her extensive collection of dried plants, Atkins created enough cyanotype photograms to self-publish Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first-ever book illustrated with photographs. Atkins created her cyanotype photograms by placing the specimen onto light-sensitive paper, and then exposing paper and subject to the sun for a period of time. She then developed the image using the cyanotype process, resulting in a rich blue background.

When Portuguese sailors first encountered this particular algae, they named it after a plant that grew in their wells at home: sargaço. Sargassum grows throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world. It floats freely on the surface of the water in large groups, which can be miles long. The Sargasso Sea, home to a large population of the algae, is named after it.

On January 15th, 1885, Bentley became the first known person to photograph a snowflake. Dead set on documenting their remarkable beauty, he found a way to catch snow crystals under a microscope slide for the fleeting moment before they melted into oblivion. He would go on to capture more than 5000 icy crystals over the course of his life, informing scientific opinion on the subject.

In fact, it was Bentley (in collaboration with professor George Henry Perkins) who first made the case that no two snowflakes are alike. Yep, we’ve got him to thank for that arctic adage. It’s no wonder the farmer turned groundbreaking photographer became known as “Snowflake” Bentley.

To create this edition, our curatorial team collected nine of our favorite of Bentley’s flakes, and composed them into a single image. The end result not only shows a range of Bentley’s work, but gives the viewer all the more opportunity to appreciate the meticulousness and natural symmetry that made his photomicrographs of snow crystals so dang stunning.

The Chetodon croissant, better known to us as the raccoon butterflyfish, is native to the Indo-Pacific region. It is widely spread, found as far as East and South Africa to the Hawaiian islands. It’s a nocturnal species that usually lives in small groups, feeding mainly on soft-bodied molluscs and small invertebrates as well as algae and coral polyps. Its English name comes from its distinct markings around the eyes, similar to those of a raccoon.

Black Marble highlights a much more fragile and impermanent feature: us. "Nothing tells us more about the spread of humans across the Earth than city lights," says Chris Elvidge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The Black Marble images (so popular that NASA created a new app, Worldview) were collected over nine days in April 2012, and 13 days in October 2012, by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP), a civilian satellite that makes data available to scientists on Earth within minutes. The final composite photograph is the product of 312 orbits around the earth. The sensor is so responsive that it can detect a single ship in the ocean. The light is a mix of manmade structures and natural phenomena like volcanoes and atmospheric glow.