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Microbe vs. Mineral: A Life and Death Struggle in the Desert

The bursts of rainbow colors in this photograph are mesmerizing, yet microbes are fighting for their lives in the background. Michael P. Zach of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, snapped this image of a salt sample he collected in a hot, arid valley near Death Valley National Park in California. Zach crushed the salt, placed it under a microscope slide and added a drop of water. Suddenly a slew of microbes came to life as the salt crystals dissolved, and when the water started evaporating, he took a picture. The colors come from light passing through the growing crystals, which act like prisms.

This image was tied for honorable mention in the photography category of the 2009 Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge, a contest co-sponsored by The National Science Foundation (NSF) along with the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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