School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

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2002, Winter

Winter 2002 Mystery Image

Winter 2002 Mystery Image
Image by Dee Hartung

It looks like a mountain formation. Maybe one in the rough dry deserts taken at night with an infrared camera. It could also be located deep on the ocean floor. Alas, it is none of these.

bacteriaWhat is it?

This is an image of bacteria taken with a special microscope called an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). The bacteria is the common Eschericia coli or sometimes called E. coli. Take a look at the image to the right to see another view of E. coli using a different type of microscope (electron microscope). 

The AFM image is produced by tapping across the top of the bacteria with a very sharp tip. How sharp a tip are we talking about? As you might guess, it is as sharp as a few atoms at the tip. The very small change in height (amplitude) is electronically amplified and sent to a computer that assembles the image. 


Congratulations Mr. Schembari's class for the most submissions from one class.

If you are curious, here are some numbers from our list of guesses. 

  • 32% thought it was an organ, or parts of an organ in the body.
  • 24% saw this image as a mountain.
  • 16% had visions of blood cells, blood clots or veins.
  • 12% thought this was a volcano .

Some great creative single answers are listed below. 

  • An alien who had just began to dematerialize when shot by a laser.
  • Volcano.
  • Taste bud on a tongue. 
  • Topographic map of mountains in infrared.
  • A patch of snow under a microscope.
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.