Pic o’ the week – crystals of a sea urchin’s tooth

Photo by Pupa U.P.A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Photo by Pupa U.P.A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian, University of Wisconsin-Madison

You’re looking at the tip of a sea urchin’s tooth. Really. This remarkable macro photo won the first place & people’s choice awards in the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, an annual contest of the National Science Foundation.

This is very cool stuff:

“These fantastical structures are the microscopic crystals that make up a sea urchin’s tooth. Each shade of blue, aqua, green, and purple–superimposed with Photoshop on a scanning electron micrograph (SEM)–highlights an individual crystal of calcite, the abundant carbonate mineral found in limestone, marble, and shells.

The curved surfaces of the crystals look nothing like normal calcite crystal faces. Instead of flat sides and sharp edges, the sea urchin produces ‘incredibly complex, intertwined’ curved plates and fibers that interlock and fill space in the tooth as they grow. Though made of a substance normally as soft as chalk, the teeth are hard enough to grind rock, gnawing holes where the sea urchins take shelter from rough seas and predators.” –NSF

Mahalo to Mission Blue for tipping us off to this fascinating and beautiful photo.

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