Looking into the World of Small Things
IF YOU look at the very best of manufactured objects, such as a chair or a table, you see a fine, beautiful finish and appearance. But if you turn the furniture over and look on the underside, you will likely find it rough and unattractive, even crude. And if you examine any part of the fine finish with a strong magnifying glass, you see that even this actually appears very rough and irregular.
What would you say about a workman whose product was so fine that even when you turned it over and gave it magnified inspection it revealed only beauty, orderliness and symmetry? And what if you found that the closer the examination the more entrancing the beauty? You would undoubtedly remark that the work was done by a superior craftsman, with extraordinary ability and wisdom, and was carried out in detail with loving care.
Such is exactly what you see in the handiwork of the Creator. And more than beauty, there is also a marvelous functional value and a most intricate, close-knit interdependence in all that the Creator has made. How each living thing works in behalf of all the others becomes more and more evident as men are able to examine the world of small things with increasingly powerful microscopes.
Of God’s workmanship, Jesus Christ said: “Take a lesson from the lilies of the field, . . . I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.” (Matt. 6:28, 29) It is easy to appreciate the delicate beauty of a flower, its unmatched color and fragrance. But when examining it closely under a microscope, down to the very cell structure, one marvels at the beauty of design and the engineering skill represented.
In our critical examination, then, let us go to the real “underside”—the world of plants and animals that is not normally seen by human eyes, and which would never be seen were it not for the microscope. In this tiny realm we find just as glorious an array.
The Kingdom of Water Plants
Where do you find this glamorous world? Take a drop of brackish water or seawater and place it between two pieces of glass. Put this “slide” on the stage of the microscope. You will see small figures, some stationary, some moving slowly, others dashing about wildly. There are those that are spinning like a top; others take an irregular and apparently aimless course. Some are plants—“‘algae”; others are animals—“protozoans.”
Plant life actually produces all the food for human and animal life on earth. (Gen. 1:29, 30) Plants, by the process called “photosynthesis,” utilize the carbon dioxide in the air or that which is dissolved in earth’s waters, to convert inorganic material into food that animals can digest. Water algae produce untold thousands of millions of pounds of starches, sugars, proteins and oils each year. Scientists have not been able to unravel the mystery of their process—photosynthesis. This complex chemical operation, on which all earthly life depends, gives testimony to the unsearchable wisdom of the Creator.
Now bring your microscope up to higher magnification. You will behold an array of exquisite jewels. These are diatoms. These glasslike plants have a hard case made of silicon in a great variety of intricate, symmetrical patterns.
Great deposits of diatom shells are found in thick layers, where they were laid down centuries ago when water covered what are now land areas. Such deposits are called “diatomaceous earth.” The shells of these plants are so small that there are more than fifty million of them in one cubic inch!
Does man receive any direct benefits from diatoms? Yes, he does. Diatomaceous earth is used in fine filters in several industries. It is employed in many non-glossy paints and in some types of insulation. Because of its abrasive qualities it is an ingredient in many scouring products. You have very likely used it when you brushed your teeth.
In observing the microscopic plants, you see a variety of color. You may also watch some of these plants reproduce in front of your eyes. A freshwater plant, Spirogyra, grows in long threads of single cells attached end to end. Each cell is like a tube. In one method of reproduction, two threads of cells lie side by side. As you watch, each cell grows a bump, the bumps continuing to grow until they join the other thread. At this point the two threads look like a ladder with many rungs. You observe the cell material move from each cell in one thread across into the other. This is a sexual process that leads to the forming of new cells and a new thread.
While watching this, you may also see a colony of Volvox, another plant, roll by like a ball. It may have hundreds or even thousands of individual cells making up this spherical “community,” yet it is no bigger than half the head of a pin.
Microscopic Animal Life
While some fish and other larger sea animals eat the algae, the greatest consumers of it are animals that are themselves microscopic. These, in turn, are eaten by the larger sea creatures. Among these minute animals many are one-celled, such as the foraminifera, found in the salt water of the oceans. Their shells form a major part of the sea floor. The chalk-white cliffs of Dover on the English Channel are formed of the shells of foraminifera. In your drop of water you may also see other one-celled animals, for example, the beautiful Radiolaria, also living in a shell. It would be impossible to mention them all, for there are more than thirty thousand types of one-celled animals living on earth today.
A remarkable fact is that these small sea animals, as well as the microscopic plant life, while so minute and delicate, have persisted in the billions in great variety for many centuries. And, what is more remarkable, they have not changed. The same characteristics are passed on from generation to generation, so that a fossil of ages ago is no different from the present living specimens. What stability! But when one realizes that all creation, with its interdependence, is the design of a supreme Intelligence, it is logically seen that such has to be the case if life is to continue on earth. This is because each creature fills its essential place in the network of life.
No description of one-celled animal life could afford to bypass the amoeba. We often hear of people becoming sick from drinking impure water containing amoebas. However, amoebas have their important role. Amoebas do not have a shell. They move about by a “flowing” action of their soft inner substance. They therefore constantly change shape. Whenever an amoeba encounters food—bacteria, decaying matter or protozoans—it stretches out pseudopodia or false “feet” to surround the object and bring it into the amoeba’s body, where it is digested. (The white blood cells in our bodies act like amoebas in flowing over and destroying bacteria and other enemies in our bloodstream.)
Going to a larger yet extremely small animal, we find in our drop of water the Daphnia, called “water fleas” because they appear to jump in the water much as a flea does on land. Actually, they swim by means of two large antennae. The water flea has five pairs of legs that serve primarily to circulate water containing food through its shell. Though it is little more than a speck, it has one eye, a “brain,” a digestive system and a heart that beats up to three hundred times a minute, pumping blood through its body, but there are no veins or arteries.
You might wonder what part these insignificant “fleas” play in behalf of man. Their lifespan is probably only about thirty-six to fifty days, but most never live out this span, because they are eaten by water bugs, certain worms and beetles and small fish. In their uncounted millions they are food factories for these somewhat larger animals. And, as yet larger sea creatures, in turn, eat these, man eventually has fish, shrimp, lobster and other seafood to delight his palate.
Also, the water flea becomes a real friend in solving one of man’s difficult engineering problems. City water reservoirs often are ideal breeding grounds for microscopic algae. When the algae multiply greatly they impart a bad taste and smell to the water. If screens are used to filter out these microscopic plants, they soon become clogged. The water flea here comes to the rescue. Engineers add water fleas to the water to “graze” on the algae. They are so efficient that they keep the algae cleared out. The water fleas are then filtered out by coarser screens, and the people of the city are happy with pure, fresh-tasting water to drink.
A Brief Story of the Microscope
Early investigators into the world of small things may have used pieces of quartz as natural lenses. Some used drops of water. But one of the first really effective microscopes had a glass bead as its lens. Things as small as diatoms could be seen through it.
The simple microscope today uses just one lens or one set of lenses. An improvement over the simple microscope is the compound microscope, in which two sets of lenses are used, one set multiplying the magnification of the other. If one set (the objective lens) multiplies the object being viewed eighty times and the other set (the eyepiece) multiplies that image ten times, the resultant image will be eight hundred times as large as the object viewed (80 x 10). At the present time the greatest highly detailed magnification obtainable with a compound microscope is in the neighborhood of a thousand times. Beyond this, images do not have good “resolution,” that is, they are not completely sharp and clear.
In the constant desire to peer deeper into the world of small things, microscope builders have turned from the visible portion of the light spectrum to ultraviolet, X ray and electron beams, which have much greater frequency of vibration and shorter wave lengths, thus affording better resolving power. This is because the wave lengths of ordinary light are longer than the dimensions of objects or the detail in them. They “jump” over the detail and therefore bring back no signal to the eye.
Constant improvement is being made. The transmission electron microscope can give clear enlargements of 100,000 to 200,000 times. Then, by employing a viewing telescope that further enlarges the image thus obtained, a good magnification of more than a million times can be reached. Things of dimensions of only a few Angstrom units can be seen in sharp detail. (An Angstrom unit is one hundred-millionth of a centimeter.)
A microscopic photograph is usually labeled as to the magnification (as, 800x). It is the linear magnification that is meant. In other words, the length and width of the picture are each 800 times the length and width of the object photographed. The area, then, is 800 x 800, or 640,000 times as large as the area of the object viewed. If the picture is one of a cell, you could lay 640,000 cells on the picture to cover it. The notation “2,000,000x” would mean an area magnification of 4,000,000,000,000 times!
A relatively new development is the scanning electron microscope. It uses a beam of electrons to scan the surface of an object in much the same way that the electron beam in a television tube scans the screen. With recent improvements it can achieve a resolution comparable to the earlier mentioned electron microscope, which produces an image of all the illuminated points at one time. Each microscope has its advantage and use, but the scanning electron microscope’s main advantage is that it gives great depth of focus, making its images have a three-dimensional appearance. Certain structures can be studied more accurately in this way.
There are endless things in earth’s waters and on the land that bring amazement to users of the microscope, and all these things confirm more solidly the Creator’s wisdom and purpose in all the things he has made.
It has been said that, while the universe is of unimaginable bigness, perhaps approaching infinity, the world of small things is likewise unfathomable. The limit has not nearly been reached. Think of the size of the earth, the billions of people living on it, and the time required to travel around it. Then look at a golf ball. The golf ball is as big to an atom as the earth is to the golf ball. Surely this beautiful universe has enough marvels to keep men’s minds employed in interesting research to all eternity.
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