The closer you get to something, the bigger it seems. Take a single drop of blood and zoom in to the cellular level, and suddenly you’re in a vast world teeming with activity, rich with life and purpose. These 10 videos take you under the microscope and into places you’d never otherwise see.
This is Euglena viridis, a unicellular protist found just about everywhere in the world. Clusters consisting of billions of these protists can become so concentrated in ponds that they visibly turn the water green.The entire creature is only about 0.02 millimeters (0.0008 in) wide—in other words, about the size of an infrared wavelength. Our ability to see something like that with such crystal-clear detail is astounding.
In this video, you can clearly see the chlorophyll-loaded plastids inside the protist as bright green lumps that shift as the organism moves around. Those chloroplasts allow E. viridis to create sugars in sunlight. But when they choose, E. viridis can also eat solid food for energy. They accomplish that through phagocytosis—in other words, they wrap around an unsuspecting food particle and absorb it directly into their bodies.
One of the first things we learn in elementary school science class is what our blood looks like. We have platelets, white blood cells that search out infections, and red blood cells that resemble pool floaties, and they all bob through a transparent liquid made up mostly of plasma. The Magic School Bus was pretty accurate about the whole thing.
In this video, we’re looking at two solitary drops of human blood, alternately viewed at 40X, 400X, and 1000X magnifications. We normally think of blood flowing in a stream through our veins and arteries—and that’s accurate—but the blood’s cells also form their own micro-streams within the larger river. Even though the drops of blood are stationary on a microscope slide, the blood cells still frantically move. In a very literal sense, blood is alive.
With its reputation as the largest organ in the human body, we tend to forget that skin is also one of the most diverse. Among other functions, your skin is responsible for protection, heat regulation, absorption, and waste excretion (your sweat contains urea, just like urine). Most importantly, it’s also responsible for our sense of touch.
In the video above, we get a bird’s-eye zoom straight into the crags and valleys of the skin’s outer layer, down to the heart of the epidermis. The effect is achieved through a composite of several videos, but the microscopic images are all real skin. The result is surreal; if your mind wanders for even an instant, the landscape will become unrecognizable by the time you get your attention back to the video. And it gives you a striking visual for something we only really know in an intellectual capacity—all the cells at the outermost layer of your skin are already dead.
7Birth Of A Snowflake
What does a snowflake look like? Unfortunately, most of them aren’t the delicately symmetrical crystalline structures that we tend to imagine. While those beautiful celebrities get the most attention, the vast majority of snowflakes are just lumpy aborts that coalesce into an unpleasant glob before melting out of existence. Unique but forgettably ugly.
But under the right conditions, we do get those superstar snowflakes, those perfect amalgamations of science and elegance. The video above shows a microscopic view of snowflake crystals forming under the right conditions, and it is breathtaking. The formation of the snowflake begins at an even smaller level—supercooled water remains in a liquid state below the freezing point, until a couple molecules chance upon each other in a unique arrangement. That foundation starts a chain reaction that pulls more water molecules into the arrangement, letting the ice crystal grow ever larger in the same shape that was formed in the original ice nucleus—a snowflake.
The formation of life is either a beautiful miracle or a sin, depending on how you were raised. Like the blood cell visual, most of us have a cartoonish mental picture of how conception works. Millions of sperm swim toward a single egg, and the first one to get there wins the prize. That’s a fairly accurate description, but actually seeing it in action is a little more visceral.
Far from running a linear race, the individual sperm actually swarm around the egg until a few happen to bump into it. And “swarm” isn’t an exaggeration—with no background explanation, the video above could easily be a cloud of fruit flies feeding on a peeled apricot.
Those are sea urchin sperm fertilizing an egg, and instead of a single sperm bumping into the ovum, ending the race, dozens of little swimmers latch onto the outer wall, frantically digging into it. In humans, out of roughly 200 million that enter the vagina, only about 100 cells make it to the second half of the Fallopian tube. The rest get lost somewhere along the way and die.
5Hidden Life In Pond Water
While Euglina viridis is a common inhabitant of pond water, it’s just one member of a microscopic ecosystem consisting of thousands of creatures. From water fleas only 0.2 millimeters (0.0079 in) long to views of mosquito larvae so close that you can see oscillating brushes sweep food into their mouths, this video captures the incredible diversity that thrives in freshwater ponds.
We’ve mentioned previously how plenty of living organisms can make their way out of the ponds and into your drinking water, and this video gives you a high-definition view of what some of those creatures look like. For example, check out the copepod bouncing past at 1:40.
Microscopes can offer astonishingly clear views, but they have their limitations. For the most part, samples are placed on a flat slide, which means that we only get to see a two-dimensional representation of life. For example, the conception video showed the egg as a disk, but it’s obviously spherical in real life.
The digital microscope was pioneered in Japan in 1986, and that paved the way for new techniques that more easily allowed researchers to view a microscopic sample in three dimensions. We’re still tinkering with the best ways to capture samples in 3-D, focusing hardest on getting 3-D images of living cells. While the video above doesn’t capture that depth of detail, it shows what’s a microscope can do with a simple rotary head, which allows the lens to circle the subject.
3T Cell Attacking Cancer
In the US alone, cancer is responsible for nearly 600,000 deaths every year, and about 1.6 million new cases are expected to crop up in 2014. While the typical treatments for cancer—such as chemotherapy and radiation—work to reduce the size of tumors, your body also actively fights cancer at the cellular level.
The video above is an unprecedented look at T cells, or T lymphocytes, destroying a cancer cell. T cells, a type of white blood cell, seek out dangerous cells in the body, then surround them and excrete a cocktail of chemicals that kill them. The video above shows the green T cell in the process of destroying the blue cancer cell. Ironically, T cells themselves can become cancerous, a condition known as T cell lymphoma.
Dust mites are one of the scourges of modern civilization. Our living environments—warm, climate-controlled houses—offer the perfect breeding ground for this little pest. Up to 19,000 mites can live on a single gram of dust, although that’s a worst-case scenario—there are probably only about 500 mites per gram of dust in your house.
In this video, not only are the dust mites themselves visible, but their fecal matter is, too. Mite feces contains digestive enzymes that trigger a range of allergic reactions in humans, causing both asthma and eczema in children. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get rid of them. They live in your mattress and on your pillow, and if you have carpet, they live there, too. And even though adult dust mites will eventually die if the humidity drops too low, the larvae can go into hibernation until a more humid environment wakes them and sends them scurrying back onto your pillowcase.
1Protozoan With Diatoms
Protozoa are some of the most common organisms viewed under the microscope. There are about 30,000 different protozoan species, and most of them range in size from 10 to 50 micrometers—small, but even the worst microscope should be able to pick them up. Arguably one of the most diverse organisms on the planet, protozoa have been found everywhere, from the subzero temperatures of the Antarctic to the scorching sands of the desert.
What’s unique about this protozoan is that we’ve caught it in a life-or-death struggle with a diatom. Diatoms are a type of algae that, like protozoa, move through the water with tiny hairs called flagella. The diatom in this video is the green rod inside the protozoan, and at about 0:29, it rips through the protozoan’s pellicle to live and fight through another day.
It’s truly mind-blowing to consider the billions of miniature struggles that happen all around us—and inside us—every second of the day, all in a world too small for our eyes to perceive.
Andrew is a freelance writer and the owner of the sexy, sexy HandleyNation Content Service. When he”s not writing he”s usually hiking or rock climbing, or just enjoying the fresh North Carolina air.