Self-Organised Art

Fernan Federici’s microscopic images of plants, bacteria, and crystals are a fine example of finding art in unexpected places.


-fluorescent proteins from a bacterial smear

Federici has recently completed his work at Cambridge where he studied self-organization, the process by which things organize themselves spontaneously and without direction like a flock of birds flying together:



– urea crystals in polarised light

The website says that ‘More specifically, he was using microscopes and a process called fluorescence microscopy to see if he could identify these kinds of patterns on a cellular level. In fluorescence microscopy, scientists shine a particular kind of light at whatever they’re trying to illuminate and then that substance identifies itself by shining a different color or light back. Sometimes researchers will also attach proteins that they know emit a particular kind of light to substances as a kind of identifier. In the non-microscopic world, it’s like using a black light on a stoner poster.’


– more urea crystals

‘A recent post at says that ‘Federici grew up with photography as a hobby, so looking through the microscope at all the different colors and patterns he realized that the process was highly visual. He hadn’t seen many images like what he was seeing published for the general public, so he asked for permission from his adviser Jim Haseloff to post the photos on his Flickr site. Today that site is filled with pages and pages of microscopic images, some of which are from his work, while others are just for fun.’


– urea crystals