Essays on Science and SocietyPERCEPTIONS OF SCIENCE

Beyond the Visible--Microscopy, Nature, and Art

Science  03 Jan 2003:
Vol. 299, Issue 5603, pp. 49-50
DOI: 10.1126/science.1077971

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In the early 19th century, advances in microscopy suddenly opened a clear window into the invisible world of cells and bacteria. In her essay, L. Gamwell describes how these discoveries inspired Art Nouveau artists to add oozing shapes and swirling flagella to their design vocabulary. By 1900, the facades of modern architecture were adorned with protozoa, and artists were painting pictures inspired by deadly microorganisms to symbolize the dark secrets of their psyches. The development of the electron microscope has enabled the ever smaller realms of molecules and viruses to be visualized. These microscopic worlds continue to inspire artists and designers to this day.