Field Notes

July 16, 2019

The Incredible Underwater World of Microorganisms, Part 2

By Jed Harvey, research team member | Part 1

Someone once told me that there is no such thing as perfect geometry or symmetry in nature. However, I’ve found that if you look closely enough at nature, you’ll find some of the best architects and artisans out in the wild.

Allow me to introduce to you the diatom.

Diatoms are a group of algae (microalgae, technically) that live throughout the world in lakes, streams and oceans. They are a great example of wonderful natural geometries. Each of the 100,000+ species has a unique shape and look, each with perfect angular geometry and symmetry.

These shapes are unique because their frustules (a sciency word for tiny shell) are made of a mineral called silica, the same mineral that makes up sand, glass and quartz. Because silica is a mineral, the molecules line up in specific ways to make the variety of interesting shapes found on diatoms. Some come in solitary spiky spheres, some come in rigid rectangular colonies, and some in long symmetrical lines that remind me of Darth Maul’s lightsaber, just to name a few.

Daphnia, volvox and diatoms are just three of countless more microorganisms that exists just beyond our line of sight. There is always more to discover! Keep learning by browsing other pages on the Lilly Center’s website, like the lake directory and Q&A page.