School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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2000, March - April

March-April 2000 Mystery Image

March-April 2000 Mystery Image
Image by Douglas Chandler

This has been an incredible month of guesses. We have had more submissions than any previous months. Many of you were able to get parts of the answer to this mystery image, but no one solved the entire mystery.

... and what was it?

The simple answer is a replica of part of a sea urchin egg quick frozen in liquid helium. Liquid helium is very cold. In fact, it is minus 269 degrees Centigrade. When you plunge a sample on to a liquid helium cooled block it freezes almost instantaneously. This is an important process that is used by scientists.

Just what is a replica? Think of it as an imprint, somewhat like a plaster mold of a footprint or from a person's face. In this case, the replica is made of platinum and carbon instead of plaster. So those of you that thought the image was minerals such as dirt or rocks were actually pretty close. The replica is made while the sample is still frozen. Later the original material is removed and the remaining platium-carbon replica is put in a transmission electron microscope.

In the microscope the replica's image has been enlarged 50,000 times. What you see is the very edge of part of the sea urchin egg. At the bottom of the image you see inside the egg and towards the middle of the picture you can see parts of the surface.


For those of you that are curious, here are some numbers from our list of guesses.

  • 42% guessed that it was an animal or part of an animal.
  • 28% guessed that it was mineral.
  • 22% guessed that it was a plant or parts of a plant.
  • 8% guessed that it was from out of this world.

Some of the creative single answers are listed below.

  • Moon rock with undiscovered alien life.
  • The ground around a fossil
  • The back of a Stegosaurus.
  • A golf ball.
  • The splatter of paint with flower petals in it.
  • The tongue from some kind of a animal or insect.
  • Part of our digestive system maybe the lining of our stomach.
  • Animal tracks on a snowy mountain.
  • Lava in water.
  • Skin of a strawberry.
  • A knight's head armor.
  • Venus fly trap.
  • Leg of a roach.
  • It is a picture of a mountain which is inhabited by south gold feet llama. All the llamas are named Bubbles in honor of their gods that belong to the cult of Vanir.
  • The image contains an Amish woman and man wearing a hat. They are seen from the back and are standing in a cave (note the limestone walls in the background and the stalagmites) next to a river of cottage cheese.
ant, photo by Alex Wild

It's like having your own microscope! Visit our Zoom Gallery to explore and have fun zooming in and moving around each image.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.

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ant, photo by Alex Wild

It's like having your own microscope! Visit our Zoom Gallery to explore and have fun zooming in and moving around each image.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.