Incredible Inner Space


Our advanced microscopes can capture movement and 3-dimensional data on video. This helps scientists learn from the natural world and design new technologies.

Chiton teeth

Much like a CT scan you might receive in a hospital, these chiton teeth were imaged using micro X-ray computed tomography (micro-CT) by Dr Jeremy Shaw, University of Western Australia and A/Prof. Allan Jones, University of Sydney.

Size: the green area is about 1 millimetre wide.

Learn more about the chiton teeth here.

Atomic resolution image of Metal Alloy in 3D

Visualised using atom probe tomography by Dr Gang Sha and Dr Baptiste Gault, University of Sydney.

Size: sample is 150 nanometres high.

Learn more about the metal alloy here.

Soil Flythrough

Dive into this tiny cube of soil and fly through the connected network of micropores. The widest pores are less than the thickness of a human hair, but they are essential for soil function. They hold water, air, nutrients and microbes, all required for plant growth. Evidence suggests that soil structure is not random and is being constantly rearranged by microbes. This self-organisation is the source of soil fertility and resilience.

Much like a CT scan you might receive in a hospital, this soil was imaged using micro X-ray computed tomography (micro-CT) by Tim Burykin and Prof. John Crawford at the University of Sydney.

The whole sample is 1 cubic millimetre in size.

Muscle Structures

Clusters of small pits called caveolae on the surface of a skeletal muscle cell. When muscle cells are suddenly stretched the caveolae flatten into the membrane protecting the cell from damage. They quickly reform when the stress is removed. The absence of this specialised protective system could cause some forms of muscular dystrophy.

Visualised using electron tomography by Garry Morgan, Charles Ferguson and Prof. Rob Parton, University of Queensland.

Size: each caveola is approximately 50 nanometres in diameter.

Leaf structures

Structure of two different leaves. The one on the left has been grown in low levels of carbon dioxide and has bigger cells and pore spaces. The one on the right was grown in higher levels or carbon dioxide and both the cells and pores are significantly smaller. These three-dimensional scans are used to model changes in carbon dioxide levels, light intensity, temperature and other variables at the micro scale. They are a powerful tool for predicting the impacts of climate change on agricultural crops and natural environments.

Visualised using micro X-ray computed tomography (micro-CT) by Tim Burykin, Prof. John Crawford, A/Prof. Margaret Barbour and Elinor Goodman, University of Sydney.

Size: the scanned areas are both 220 micrometres wide.

Breast cancer cell movement

Breast cancer cell growing amongst collagen fibrils in a culture dish. This particular type of cancer cell can move through the dense, mesh-like connective tissue by sending out membrane projections that grab onto the collagen fibrils. The skeleton within the cell then contracts, pulling the cell through the network of fibres. In this way cells move away from the original tumour site and lie dormant elsewhere in the breast until some future trigger sets it growing again, maybe years later.

Visualised using differential interference microscopy by Dr Sandra Fok and Dr Lilian Soon, University of Sydney.

Size: the field of view is 70 micrometres wide.

spider web attachment complex

Fly around a spider web attachment complex. Nanoscale strands of glue-coated silk rapidly attach the thicker drag-line thread securely to any surface. The attachment complex is extremely sticky and distributes stresses efficiently with a minimal amount of material. This research may enable us to create stronger adhesives.

Visualised using 3D electron microscopy by Dr Jonas Wolff, Macquarie University and Dr Minh Huynh, University of Sydney.

Size: the attachment complex is approximately 300 micrometres in diameter.

7 million year old ant

Ancient ant from the Miocene period, making it more than seven million years old. It is exquisitely preserved in opaque amber from North Queensland. Visualising ancient insects like this is the best way to compare them with species around today. This can be of great interest to scientists studying the impact of climate change.

Visualised using micro X-ray computed tomography (micro-CT) by A/Prof. Allan Jones, University of Sydney. Size: the ant is 3.8 mm long