Get up close and personal with your innards with these 15 amazing 3D-body shots. Almost all of the following images were captured using a scanning electron microscope (SEM), a type of electron microscope that uses a beam of high-energy electrons to scan surfaces of images. The electron beam of the SEM interacts with atoms near or at the surface of the sample to be viewed, resulting in a very high-resolution, 3D-image. Magnification levels range from x 25 (about the same as a hand lens) to about x 250,000. Incredible details of 1 to 5 nm in size can be detected.
Max Knoll was the first person to create an SEM image of silicone steel in 1935; over the next 30 years, a number of scientists worked to further develop the instrument, and in 1965 the first SEM was delivered to DuPont by the Cambridge Instrument Company as the “Stereoscan.”
Here you’ll experience the power of SEM in a journey of self-discovery that starts in your head, travels down through the chest and ends in the bowels of the abdomen. Along the way, you’ll see what’s normal, what happens when cells are twisted by cancer and what it looks like when an egg meets sperm for the first time. You’ll never see yourself the same way again.
- 1. Red blood cells. Image: Annie Cavanagh, Welcome Images. They look like little cinnamon candies here, but they’re actually the most common type of blood cell in the human body – red blood cells (RBCs). These biconcave-shaped cells have the tall task of carrying oxygen to our entire body; in women there are about 4 to 5 million RBCs per micro liter (cubic millimeter) of blood and about 5 to 6 million in men. People who live at higher altitudes have even more RBCs because of the low oxygen levels in their environment.
- 2. Split end of human hair. Image: Liz Hirst, Welcome Images. Regular trimmings to your hair and good conditioner should help to prevent this unsightly picture of a split end of a human hair.
3. Purkinje neurons. Image: Annie Cavanagh, Welcome Images. Of the 100 billion neurons in your brain, Purkinje neurons are some of the largest. Among other things, these cells are the masters of motor coordination in the cerebellar cortex. Toxic exposure such as alcohol and lithium, autoimmune diseases, genetic mutations including autism and neurodegenerative diseases can negatively affect human Purkinje cells.
4. Hair cell in the ear. Image: Welcome Photo Library, Welcome Images. Here’s what it looks like to see a close-up of human hair cell stereocilia inside the ear. These detect mechanical movement in response to sound vibrations.
5. Blood vessels emerging from the optic nerve. Image: Freya Mowat, Welcome Images. In this image, stained retinal blood vessels are shown to emerge from the black-colored optic disc. The optic disc is a blind spot because no light receptor cells are present in this area of the retina where the optic nerve and retinal blood vessels leave the back of the eye.
6. Tongue with taste bud. Image: David Gregory & Debbie Marshall, Welcome Images. This color-enhanced image depicts a taste bud on the tongue. The human tongue has about 10,000 taste buds that are involved with detecting salty, sour, bitter, sweet and savory taste perceptions.
7. Tooth plaque. Image: David Gregory & Debbie Marshall, Welcome Images. Brush your teeth often because this is what the surface of a tooth with a form of “corn-on-the-cob” plaque looks like.
8. Blood clot. Image: David Gregory & Debbie Marshall, Welcome Images. Remember that picture of the nice, uniform shapes of red blood cells you just looked at? Well, here’s what it looks like when those same cells get caught up in the sticky web of a blood clot. The cell in the middle is a white blood cell.
9. Alveoli in the lung. Image: David Gregory & Debbie Marshall, Welcome Images. This is what a color-enhanced image of the inner surface of your lung looks like. The hollow cavities are alveoli; this is where gas exchange occurs with the blood.
10. Lung cancer cells. Image: Anne Weston, Welcome Images. This image of warped lung cancer cells is in stark contrast to the healthy lung in the previous picture.
11. Villi of small intestine. Image: Professor Alan Boyde, Welcome Images. Villi in the small intestine increase the surface area of the gut, which helps in the absorption of food. Look closely and you’ll see some food stuck in one of the crevices.
12. Human egg with coronal cells. Image: Yorgos Nikas, Welcome Images. This image is of a purple, color-enhanced human egg sitting on a pin. The egg is coated with the zona pellicuda, a glycoprotein that protects the egg but also helps to trap and bind sperm. Two coronal cells are attached to the zona pellicuda.
13. Sperm on the surface of a human egg. Image: Yorgos Nikas, Welcome Images. Here’s a close-up of a number of sperm trying to fertilize an egg
14. Human embryo and sperm. Image: Dr. David Becker, Welcome Images. It looks like the world at war, but it’s actually five days after the fertilization of an egg, with some remaining sperm cells still sticking around. This fluorescent image was captured using a confocal microscope. The embryo and sperm cell nuclei are stained purple while sperm tails are green. The blue areas are gap junctions, which form connections between the cells.
15. Colored image of a 6 day old human embryo implanting. Image: Yorgos Nikas, Welcome Images. And the cycle of life begins again: this 6 day old human embryo is beginning to implant into the endometrium, the lining of the uterus.