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Blow your mind with a look at your beer

Site devoted to seldom-seen wonders

By Camille Feanny
CNN


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ART OR SCIENCE?
Molecular Expressions contains extreme close-ups of beer, birthstones, feathers and much more.

Microscopic Science Art puts liquids in a whole new light by displaying common elements like water, crystals, plastics and sand in uncommon ways.

MicroAngela features microscopic images of insects vividly colorized.
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National High Magnetic Field Labs
Applied Sciences
Science and Technology
Florida State University

(CNN) -- Magnify "Heath toffee crunch" ice cream 200 to 1,000 times, and you can see the rippling deep blue bursts of flavor that make it taste so good.

A rare Martian meteorite seen through a microscope forms a collage of vivid colors and jagged shapes that is out of this world.

But whatever you magnify -- beer, gems, even gunpowder -- most objects just end up looking like the psychedelic swirls in a funky tie-dyed T-shirt.

"You get the pretty images due to the light hitting the defects in the materials," said Michael Davidson, a scientist -- and fervent microscope buff -- at the National High Magnetic Field Labs at Florida State University.

The average person may not own a powerful microscope or telescope, but Davidson's site, MolecularExpressions.com, is dedicated to introducing visitors to a hidden world seldom seen. With the click of a button, the site displays details usually too small or too far away to be viewed by the naked eye.

With the evolution of microscopes and more powerful computers, Davidson's is one of a handful of sites featuring images of minute, sometimes subatomic particles that blur the lines between science and art.

"Scientific images are very artistic, and we wanted to present the artistic merit of science," Davidson said.

It's taken nine years and has cost more than $5 million to create the site. But it draws 40,000 visitors a day, swallowing up about a quarter of the university's Internet bandwidth, he said.

Framed prints of Davidson's micrographs have been displayed in art galleries nationwide. And the images have been licensed by makers of calendars, greeting cards and even by the folks who make those famous "Jerry Garcia" -- the late head of the Grateful Dead -- neckties.

It may not be the Guggenheim, but Davidson's digital art gallery is replete with exotic, alluring images.

Site visitors can access photographs and artists' renderings that provide a wild ride from the microscope through the telescope and beyond.

And Davidson's passion for detail led him to another discovery. While photographing the surface of tiny integrated circuits for a research project, the art-loving professor found miniscule silicon creatures embedded on the surface of hundreds of computer chips -- put there by engineers longing for a bit of recognition.

Turns out that after spending several months or years designing a chip, some techies would get special pleasure from secretly stamping their creations -- even if those signatures could only be seen through a microscope.

The teeny doodles are only a fraction of the size of a human hair, and Davidson's site displays more than 300 of them, including a heard of buffalo, university mascots and even the tormented office drone from the "Dilbert" comic strip.

Many of the images are captured using specialized equipment -- like electron and light microscopes -- which cost thousands of dollars. But with digital microscopes selling for around $750, Davidson said the average Joe could soon also get in on the fun of seeing small.


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