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Macro or Micro? Test Your Sense of Scale

A geographer and a biologist at Salem State University team up to curate a new exhibition, featuring confounding views from both satellites and microscopes

You might be curious, is this something macroscopic or microscopic? It’s actually the wing of a green darner dragonfly, as seen through a scanning electron microscope. Image by Paul Kelly.

Stephen Young is geography professor at Salem State University. He studies vegetation change on Earth using satellite imagery and displays his photographs outside his office.

Paul Kelly, a colleague of Young’s, is a herpetologist. He studies snakes’ scales under a microscope to determine which species are closely related evolutionarily. His classroom walls are decorated with scanning electron micrographs.

“I saw some similar patterns there,” says Young. As a joke, last year, he put a landscape image on Kelly’s door. The biologist mistook it for an electron microscope image that his office mate had created, which got the two talking and comparing imagery. “We found that we had this similar interest in understanding scale and how people perceive it,” Young explained.

The two scientists have since created and collected more than 50 puzzling images—of polished minerals and glaciers, sand dunes and bird feathers—for display in “Macro or Micro?,” an exhibition currently at both Salem State University’s Winfisky Gallery and Clark University’s Traina Center for the Visual and Performing Arts. Kelly notes, “After I saw Steve’s images, I could think of things that would look something like his satellite images from knowing how tissues and organs are built microscopically.”

But what do you see? Is the subject something massive, viewed from space, or something miniscule, seen through the lens of a microscope? Test yourself here, with these 15 images curated by Young and Kelly.

Answers can be found at the bottom of the post.

1. Macro or Micro?

2. Macro or Micro?

3. Macro or Micro?

4. Macro or Micro?

5. Macro or Micro?

6. Macro or Micro?

7. Macro or Micro?

8. Macro or Micro?

9. Macro or Micro?

10. Macro or Micro?

11. Macro or Micro?

12. Macro or Micro?

13. Macro or Micro?

14. Macro or Micro?

15. Macro or Micro?

“Macro or Micro?” is on display at Clark University’s Traina Center for the Visual and Performing Arts through November 1, 2013, and at Salem State University’s Winfisky Gallery through November 6, 2013.

H/T to Megan Garber at the Atlantic for the formatting idea. Check out her “NASA or MOMA? Play the Game!”

Answers:

1. Macro: Lakes surrounded by steep sand dunes in the Gobi Desert in China’s Inner Mongolia (Data downloaded from the European Space Agency. Additional image processing by Stephen Young.)

2. Micro: A polished mineral surface (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)

3. Macro: The Matusevich Glacier in East Antarctica (Original image: NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team. Additional image processing by Stephen Young.)

4. Macro: Sand dunes in Algeria’s Sahara desert (Landsat Thematic Mapper data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility. Image processing by Stephen Young.)

5. Macro: Cumulus clouds over the South Pacific Ocean (Image created by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC, additional image processing by Stephen Young.)

6. Micro: A rotten human tooth (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)

7. Micro: The surface of a snake eggshell (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)

8. Micro: The interior of a leopard frog’s small intestine (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)

9. Macro: The Ganges-Brahmaptutra river delta in South Asia (Raw data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility and processed by Stephen Young)

10. Micro: A polished sample of boron (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)

11. Macro: White lines cutting through China’s Gobi Desert (Image downloaded from Satellite Image Corporation and cropped by Stephen Young)

12. Macro: Sea ice forming around Shikotan Island, at the southern end of the Kuril Islands, north of Japan (Image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon using data provided by the NASA EO-1 team. Downloaded and cropped from NASA’s Visible Earth website.)

13. Micro: The surface of a leopard frog’s tongue (Imaged and processed by Paul Kelly)

14. Macro: A Landsat thermal image of western Australia (Raw data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility and processed by Stephen Young)

15. Macro: A Landsat image from North Africa (Raw data downloaded from the Global Land Cover Facility and processed by Stephen Young)

 

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