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Usually we’re looking into pond water or whatever other fascinating bit of nature that James, our master of microscopes, usually looks at. But right now, our sights are coming to us directly from the kitchen and from a different master of microscopes.

Special thanks to Chloé Savard for allowing us to use her footage:

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To get a free trial and an additional 25% discount on the annual subscription which includes unlimited access to their browser extension, join Shortform at or click the link in the description. I’m going to cut right to the chase.

We’re looking at the inside of a potato right now. Yes, seriously. When you take a little slide of that bland, mushy flesh and put it under the microscope with polarized light, this is what you see.

I can’t speak for you, but this, is not what I expected. Potatoes are a great food, but they’re not exactly the most exciting to look at. I certainly never expected to see something that could double as the stained glass windows in a Sailor Moon fever dream.

But that varied array of colors is built out of something simple: starch granules. Those granules act as storage for the plant’s carbohydrate supply, which is then stashed in the potato tubers underground. The starches are meant to provide energy for the potato plant.

But of course, plenty of animals (including us) like to make use of the potato’s sparkly starches as well. And when you look inside other foods, like passion fruit and bananas, you can see those starches as well, sometimes packed into cells or at other times, flowing across the slide. Perhaps, if you’ve been journeying with us through the microcosmos for a while now, you may have noticed that these images look very different from our usual sights.

Of course, that’s partially because we’re looking at very different things from our typical fare. Usually we’re looking into pond water or whatever other fascinating bit of nature that James, our master of microscopes, usually looks at. But right now, our sights are coming to us directly from the kitchen.

But also, things are looking a bit different because today, we’re looking through the lens of a different master of microscopes. Her name is Chloe Savard, and you can follow on Instagram at tardibabe. Chloe got her start in microscopy three years ago, after seeing some videos on Instagram that piqued her interest.

She started slowly at first, but it’s since built into a huge passion, helping her see the world through that combination of artistry and science that microscopy inherently blends together. These videos of the crystals inside of dragon fruits are some of our favorites of hers. It looks like she accidentally dropped a giant container of neon confetti onto her microscope.

But those funky shapes are probably a type of sugar called myo-inositol, which crystallized as water slowly evaporated from the slide. If you watch more of what Chloe sees through her microscope, you’ll see spectacular colors over and over again as she renders different crystals in vivid terms. And she’s able to do this using a type of light called polarized light, which restricts the electrical field vibrations of the light to one plane.

To our eyes, polarized light looks the same as non-polarized light. But under a microscope, we can see the effect of polarized light hitting certain types of materials— in this case, the crystals in our food— as it forms a dazzling tableau. This effect has been part of the excitement of microscopy for Chloe, especially because she loves the saturated colors she’s learned to bring out with her microscope.

That’s how she’s able to see the stone cells inside of fruits like pears and blueberries. These cells aren’t alive, but they still serve a purpose: to support the fruit, and sometimes even to protect them from threats like weevils. Their walls are full of sturdy lignin, which is responsible for the gritty texture you feel when you bite into a pear.

Even though these aren’t like the microbial life we usually watch under the microscope, there’s a similar feeling to them, like we’re unlocking this tiny world that’s responsible for everything we experience. It’s just that instead of, say, a tiny algae responsible for the air we breathe or a parasite that can eat away at a body, we’re experiencing an invisible universe responsible for the way that our foods feel and taste and sustain us. Like have you ever eaten a pineapple and immediately scrunched your face up in pain?

Well, that might be due to these structures called raphides made from calcium oxalate crystals. A number of other fruits and plants have raphides, and there are a few theories about what raphides actually do. Given that they look a lot like needles, one idea is that they might function as protection, prickling away at the mouth of anyone who dares eat the plant.

But crystals aren’t the only surreal sight buried in the microscopic worlds of fruits and vegetables. If you look at the inside of an onion or a pumpkin, you can see a streaming motion within the cells called cytoplasmic streaming, or cyclosis, though we have the movement sped up a bit here. This motion is a cell at work, using a network of actin and myosin to carry organelles and other molecules around so they can carry out various tasks in distant regions.

We’ve been looking at a lot of fruits and vegetables, but that’s not all Chloe looks at. If you go to her Instagram, you’ll see videos of some of our favorite microcosmos friends, like tardigrades and diatoms and worms. Like James, she has an office full of stinky jars that are full of samples taken from ponds.

But there has been one major challenge to her love of searching for microscopic life in ponds: winter. In Montreal, the cold temperatures often keep her from finding new samples for months. That’s why Chloe started looking at fruits and vegetables.

It was meant to help her bide the time. But after she looked at the inside of a potato, she was hooked. She’d never expected starch to be so beautiful, or to find similar structures in different types of molecules.

But there they were, an array of striking colors apparent under the microscope. Compared to pond samples, which can rely on hours and hours of patience to sort through, fruits and vegetables offered something immediate, which meant she could experiment with the artistic side of microscopy in a different way as well, learning to bring out those structures and colors. There is both an art and a science to turning the fruit bowl into a subject in this way, crafting a still life that reveals itself to not be so still after all.

With every beam of light, Chloe takes us on a tour of something we see every day, and helps us see it through her eyes: as something surreal and beautiful and mind-blowing that is just within our reach. Thank you for coming on this journey with us as we explore the unseen world that surrounds us. And thank you to Shortform for sponsoring this video.

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