Thursday, February 03, 2011

Be stunned by a sponge


This is one of my favourite things. It's the skeleton of a sponge called the venus flower basket, and its made of glass! The sponge grows a glass skeleton. It's part of Theodore Gray's amazing collection of the elements, in all shapes and forms. His Wooden Periodic Table Table (and the website documenting it) is one of the best things. Mr Gray himself is a modest, enthusiastic multi-talented wonder. We bought a copy of his book The Elements for Michael's birthday, and we all love it. This is what he says about the above sample, on the page for Silicon:
This is a sea creature, a sponge of sorts, that grows a glass skeleton. That's right, the skeleton is made of what amounts to fiberglass. Isn't that the most amazing thing you've ever heard of? I suppose it shouldn't be any more amazing than us growing a calcium phosphate (actually calcium phosphate foam) skeleton, but it is to me. Not only is the skeleton glass, the fibers it's made of are said to be superior in some ways to man-made fiber optics, and of course they are grown at low temperatures, something people, as of this writing, have no idea how to do. And to top it off, this creature has one of those classically bizarre life cycles one can only stand in awe of. Each Venus Flower Basket is usually inhabited by a mating pair of bioluminescent shrimp. The shrimp entered the sponge when they were small, and are now too large to ever leave, but their offspring can swim out the openings to find their own sponges to set up permanent housekeeping in. Mated for life (whether they like it or not), the shrimp feed on the remains of food filtered by the sponge, while the light they generate is thought to attract more such food to the sponge. Oh, and these things are dirt common, and can even be grown in home aquariums. We really do live on one of the most amazing planets I'm sure.
While I am raving about Theodore Gray, here is one page from his marvellous book which I grabbed from here. If I remember rightly, he describes Scandium as "the first element you've never heard of". Another great thing about him is he takes the photos himself, and has a natty setup whereby he can photograph a sample 72 times and assemble them into interactive spinnable images - which are a hoot.

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