Bioluminescence – Microorganisms

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Bioluminescent phytoplankton, Hobart, Tasmania
Photo via CSIRO

Bioluminescent phytoplankton display a vibrant bluish greenish light when disturbed or agitated by wave action – creating a night time spectacle. Bioluminescence occurs in the microscopic living organisms when the enzyme luciferase catalyzes oxidation of the chemical luciferin to a light-emitting state. Luciferin is well named – originating from the Latin word lucifer, ‘bearer of light’.

Benthem Crouwel Architects, ‘Lightwaves’, 2016-17 
Photo via Materia

The architectural firm developed the ‘Lightwaves’ concept for the Amsterdam Festival of Light. The night installation mimics bioluminescence of phytoplankton using light emitted by electricity rather than biochemically – and disturbed by wind rather than water. activity. As the wind blows, the veil transforms into waves that light a multitude of LED lights into airborne simulations of phytoplankton.


Bioluminescent phytoplankton from the whale scene in the movie ‘Life of Pi’, 2012
Photo via 3dartistonline

The leaping  whale scene in the movie ‘Life of Pi’ is a stunning visualization of the disturbance of bioluminescent phytoplankton floating at the ocean’s surface. It is a magical sequence filmed in a massive custom-built wave pool. Blended camerawork and digital effects have created an awesome representation of the natural phenomenon.


Hunter Cole, ‘The Entomologist I: Portrait of Bob Hamilton’, photo by light of bioluminescent bacteria, 
Photo via interaliamag

The geneticist and artist, Hunter Cole combined biological knowledge and visual skills to create this unusual and provocative photograph. Cultures of living bioluminescent bacteria in petri dishes act as lamps in the darkness providing the sole light source for the photograph. Production of light by bioluminescent bacteria is similar to the light bearing luciferin-luciferase chemistry of bioluminescent phytoplankton.

Bioluminescence – Crystal Jelly

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‘Crystal Jelly’, Aequorea victoria jellyfish
Photo via ‘Aequorea victoria’ video

The transparent and virtually colorless appearance of the ‘crystal jelly’ belies its fluorescent contribution to the advancement of biological imaging. Bioluminescence is present as a ring of green fluorescence at the rim of the umbrella shape – and only visible in ultraviolet light.


Aequorea victoria – ‘Ring of Fluorescence’
Photo via Toochee

Blue LED lighting reveals Aequorea victoria’s ring of fluorescence. It is this ring that makes the ‘crystal jelly’ famous. It is the traditional source of green fluorescent protein (GFP) used in fluorescent biological imaging.


A startling genetic expression of inherited bioluminescence
Photo via National Institute of Health

Green Fluorescent Protein can be introduced into living creatures for monitoring gene expression and proteins of specific biological processes. This bizarre image visualizes the continued presence of the green fluorescent protein in the genome of the male parent to that of three mice in the litter of six. The vibrant green of GFP becomes visible in the presence of light in the UV range.


GFP highlighting ASH neurons in the primitive organism, C. elegans
Photo via OIST

The image is a beautiful representation of the GFP marker for sensory neurons in pathways of neural activity in the tiny round worm C. elegans – used for studies in genetics and neurology. ASH neurons have the function of avoiding potentially harmful stimuli. It is extraordinary to have the ability to visualize neural function with this degree of microscopic magnification.

Emitted Light

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Graphene Light – atomic level strength of light emission
Photo via phys org

The atom-thick graphene layer in the image is in the hard-to-believe one billionth of a meter range. The exceptional conductivity and strength of light emitted at the atomic level of graphene has played a significant role in light amplification in LEDs and fiber optics. Light as a medium in the visual arts has undergone extraordinary developments in recent years. Artists have responded by expressing ideas in innovative and powerful displays of emitted light.



Jim Campbell, ‘Blur’, LEDs, cast resin and custom electronics, 2017
Photo via brycewolkowitz



Luzinterruptus,’ Radioactive Encounter’, LEDs in hazmat suits, 2011



Carlo Bernardini, ‘Light Catalyst’, plexiglass and fiber optics, 2002
Photo via carlobernardini



Bruce Munro, ‘Field of Light’, solar powered LEDs and fiber optics, Uluru near Ayers Rock, Australia, 2016-2018
Photo via this is colossal


Visible Spectrum

posted in: Light, Visible Spectrum 0


NASA, ‘Prism Spectrum’
Photo via NASA Earth Observatory

A prism’s display, startling, mesmerizing, even searing in its display of the visual spectrum – and artists have used the phenomenon in ways that are amazing in concept and execution.


Peter Erskine, ‘Rainbow Sundial’, 2000
Photo via Erskine Solar Art

Erskine describes his solar powered prismatic spectrum: “. . . lines . . . mark the hours, months, solstices and equinoxes with astronomical accuracy. A 30’ x 30’ moving cross of spectrum sunlight, powered by the rotation and tilt of the Earth tells the time and date. On cloudy days a laser pointer driven by a solar tracking program fills in for the rainbow.”


Emmanuelle Moureaux, ‘100 Colors’, 2015
Photo via Watson Festival

With simplicity, and tradition, Tokyo architect and designer Emmanuelle Moureaux has selected a vivacious range of 100 hues creating an eye-popping spectacle of colored paper sheets structured in layers and floating in space.


Gabriel Dawe, ‘Plexus 35’, 2016
Photo via COLOSSAL

Gabriel Dawe’s installation, often referred to as the man-made rainbow, uses lengths of colored thread radiating and reflecting blended hues. A diaphanous rainbow is described giving the feeling of having crept in from the windows above.


Shrimp and Color Blindness

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The multi-coned eyes of the Mantis Shrimp captured our imaginations
Photo Courtesy: National Science Foundation

With four times as many cones as the human eye, controversy regarding Mantis vision surpassing human vision seems to be fading into myth. Interest has shifted to the complex ability of shrimp’s eye cells to process polarized light – an inspiration for breakthroughs in optical technology. The question arises. What does a human with red/green color blindness see when looking at the red/green shrimp?


Color spectrum as seen by human eye with normal vision


Color spectrum as seen by human eye with red/green color blindness (Deuteranopia)


Red & bitter lime. Left: with red/green color blindness. Right: with normal vision.

Seems to relate not only color but also spatial perception. With red/green color blindness the above two images might look similar. Apparently 10% of the population has some degree of red/green color blindness.


The Mantis Shrimp as seen by a person with red/green color blindness
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