This looks like a colorful ocean reef, but it’s actually the forming end of a sea urchin tooth. Pupa Gilbert, a UW chemistry and physics professor, used a scanning electron microscope to make a grayscale image and then painstakingly colored it to show the individual calcite crystals that make up the tooth. Her creation won top honors in the 2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the journal Science. Gilbert studies urchins’ ability to gnaw holes in rock to make hiding places in a dangerous ocean environment. Sea urchin teeth are essentially self-sharpening, a trick that human toolmakers may someday incorporate into cutting edges that never need sharpening.
Published in the Summer 2013 issue