Saturday, March 5, 2011

Creepy Microscopy: Animated Myelins and Tentacle Stick Figures

Always on the lookout for spooky textures detected with a microscope or revealed in my kids' drawings, I have been enthralled and terrified to watch soap dissolve.  To be scared like me, you'll need to read lots of Lovecraftian horror stories...then use a microscope to monitor soap hydration.  Obviously, there are limited folks who'll fit that call to order, so below may suffice:

Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) is really cool method that reveals ordered structures within microstructures like nylon fibers, mineral grains, and wet soap. [For gearheads wanting to learn more, check out the interactive (Flash and Java) Tutorials at Florida State's Microscopy University and the separate primer on using PLM to study cystals: Birefringent Crystals].


Ref-1 Hydrating Soap

Fran Rosevear (1912-2010) was a Procter & Gamble phase chemist and microscopist who authored seminal papers of PLM for characterizing surfactants (soap) as they hydrate (get wet).  The tentacle like structures in the "Neat" phase are bilayer tubes (see images).  If you watch water enter dry soap, you can witness these structures form; Rosevear called the analogous, equilibrated structure "oily streaks".

Myelins are flexible crystals, laminated tubes of the same oily streak structure described by Rosevear.  Watching them be born is a real hoot.  They emerge like wiggling snakes as water works it's way into concetrated surfactant.
Ref-2 Oily Streaks

Here are some myelins I witnessed form using Differential Interferrence Contrast  microscopy (a form of PLM).  Do these not scream "Lovecraft dreamed me into existence"?  The myelins look like swelling brain matter.  If I did not know better, I might claim they were sentient worms instead. 

Mike Cates of the University of Edinburgh and collaborators have been studying myelin formation and have some more compelling images.  This image was shared by Louisa Reissig's presentation: Myelin Formation during the Dissolution of Lamellar Phase @ the 81st ACS Colloid & Surface Science Symposium (June 24-27, 2007), Newark, DE.

Here is another image from literature, this one from nonionic systems (BH Chen, C. M., JM Walsh, PB Warren (2000 ). "Dissolution rates of pure nonionic surfactants." Langmuir.)

Okay, so I worked visions of evil tentacles into the Lords of Dyscrasia Book trailer (another post). This is the second video featured in the trailer:

These structures (and the horrors they evoke) are also affecting my creature design for my sequel to Lords of Dyscrasia.  Below, I share imagery my son drew up for me:
Connor's tentacled monsters - (created ~2010)  

Yes, I have been known to ask my kids to contribute to the creative process.  For completeness sake, I share some my daughter dreamed up a few years ago: 

Erin's "Blood Skeletons" (created ~2003)