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September Behind the Scenes


September 4, 2012

Diatoms are tiny, single-celled algae that are key players in the environment, producing one-fifth of all the oxygen on Earth. During September at the Academy, we'll be hosting behind-the-scenes tours of our world-renowned Diatom Herbarium--one of the two largest in the world--to highlight diatoms' sheer beauty and environmental significance.

Join us Thursdays through Mondays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to catch a glimpse of a mere sampling of the Academy’s more than 220,000 diatom slides. Curator Marina Potapova will serve as your guide as you view these richly colored, breathtakingly ornate, and entirely symmetrical single-celled algae.

Although diatoms are extremely tiny, they pack a powerful punch. Diatoms have unique cell walls made of silica that encase and protect them. When they die, their colorful living tissues deteriorate, but their silica skeletons remain and sink to the bottom of lakes and oceans. These deposits become environmental archives, and scientists use them to gather rich information about past environmental conditions and earth history.

You'll be able to view our diatoms' silica walls under a microscope, and if you’re lucky, you may even see a few live diatoms for yourself! After you encounter these algae, you’ll understand why scientists liken diatoms to snowflakes: they boast perfect symmetry and matchless form, and they contain dividing walls.

You won't want to miss your chance to see our treasured diatoms, which hail from every continent, every ocean, and several major island chains. With their variety of shapes and patterns, our diatoms are equal parts science and art. To learn more about the ways in which diatoms help scientists understand environmental changes, visit the Academy for a behind-the-scenes tour this month.