Picture of the Week—Irish Moss

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The National Science Foundation and the journal Science are now soliciting entries in their seventh International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge (deadline for entries is September 15). There are five categories (photographs, illustrations, informational graphics, interactive media and non-interactive media), and the winners each year are truly wonderful. This photo of Irish moss (a type of seaweed) tied for first place in 2007.

The slimy, glistening mass of seaweed washed up on a sandy beach seems light-years distant from this feathery, dendritic image of Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) created by Andrea Ottesen, a botanist and molecular ecologist at the University of Maryland, College Park. "If you pull Chondrus out of the ocean, it's folded on itself--really curled up," she says. It wasn't until after she had "pressed every one of those little ends down with sea stones" and left it to dry for 2 days that the seaweed's beautiful, simple shape was revealed. Besides being one of the most common seaweed species on the Atlantic coast, says Ottesen, Irish moss and algae like it are sources of natural thickeners and stabilizers called carrageenans, which are widely used in processed foods as diverse as lunch meat and ice cream.

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