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We'd love to learn more about our Microcosmos community and who's out there watching these videos. So, we've got a short survey for you to fill out where you can let us know more about you and what you'd like to see from Journey to the Microcosmos in the future

Usually on Journey to the Microcosmos, we spend our time looking at living organisms, things like insects, plants, and microbes that move and breathe and grow and die. But today, for these first few moments, these are the only living organisms we’ll be showing you, a montage of creatures whose bodies all share one very eye-catching trait: crystals.

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This episode is brought to you by  our supporters on Patreon.

These   videos truly could not exist without the  support we receive on Patreon and so to   each and every one of you who have signed up on, we say Thank you! And speaking of… well, you.

We’d like  to learn more about who is out there   watching these videos. So we’ve put together  a short survey that you can find linked in   the description below. It’ll just tell us more  about why you like Journey to the Microcosmos,   what types of things you might  like to see from us in the future,   and overall it will help us understand  this Microcosmos community a little better.

The links for both Patreon and the  survey can be found in the description. Usually on  Journey to the Microcosmos, we spend our time looking at living organisms,   things like insects, plants, and microbes that  move and breathe and grow and die. But today,   for these first few moments, these are the  only living organisms we’ll be showing you,   a montage of creatures whose bodies all  share one very eye-catching trait: crystals.  Their purposes may vary, but the visual is  the same.

They adorn our microbial friends   from the inside, glittering as the light  from our microscope shines through them.  But crystals aren’t exclusively found  in the confines of other organisms.   They existed long before life itself, as our  planet’s earliest ingredients stewed together.  In fact, if you’re looking at a natural diamond,  you are looking at a crystal that was likely made   billions of years ago, deep beneath the surface  of where we live now. Hundreds of miles into our   planet, the weight of rock combined with high  temperatures to create the right combination of   pressure and heat that drives carbon atoms to link  together in the rigid structure of a diamond.  And as volcanic eruptions deep in the planet  drove those diamonds up to the surface,   those ancient crystals ended up in  locations where humans could find them.  Like...on eBay, which is where James—our master of  microscopes—bought the ones you’re looking at now,   the ultraviolet light revealing the colors  that the impurities within them take on.  Now don’t get me wrong, it is very easy to  distract me with shiny things. But there’s   something about the diamonds, beautiful  as they may be, that feels so...static.   Looking at them and thinking back to our  usual journey through the microcosmos,   the line between life and non-life feels  clearer than ever.

These are rocks. Gorgeous,   fascinating rocks with eons of history  packed into them. But  But this...this feels different, doesn’t it?

Not  alive necessarily, but still its vibrancy is more   than just the flashy sheen across the surface.  It’s the movement, the creeping extension of   technicolor lines that branch across the screen,  each new addition a statement of its own presence.  This is what happens when your curious  master of microscopes looks at some of the   things around him and wonders what would  happen if he just mixed them together.   Things like old pills, effervescent  tablets, plant fertilizer, and Red Bull.  To be honest, James wasn’t actually setting  out to capture footage for an episode about   crystals. He just wanted to know what  would happen if he mixed those random   ingredients together, put the concoction on  a slide, and then turned on the microscope.  The answer is simple enough.  What happens are crystals:   a color palette that feels inspired by Lisa  Frank, projected onto a surreal pattern that   you could convince me is the product of an  AI trained on old computer screensavers.  But because we weren’t exactly  planning to make these crystals,   we don’t have a good sense of exactly what  chemicals are responsible for the crystals   we’re watching. We suspect that the fertilizer  is playing a big role, which would make sense   because one of the ingredients in fertilizer is  monoammonium phosphate, a chemical that shows up   in a lot of those “grow your own crystal” kits.

Those kits work in a way that’s similar to what   we’re watching happen in our own home-grown  crystals. When James mixed his hodgepodge   of things together, molecules broke apart,  releasing atoms into a solution. And when   he added that solution to a slide, the  thin layer of liquid began to evaporate.  You can see the edges of those drops in  the clips.

And you might even be able to   see the way the crystals form along those  edges, the atoms concentrating to the point   of saturation and then beyond it, at which  point they grab onto anything they can.  That moment is called nucleation. It  might be latching on to a speck of dust,   or maybe some other random thing. Whatever it  is, it’s enough to seed the rest of the crystal,   with more atoms precipitating and adding  themselves on to the structure that is assembling.  The way those atoms connect to each other  depends in part on their own properties,   a function of charge and size  that may be invisible to us,   but that decides where the atoms should  be relative to each other and creates   a shape that will—with the addition of  more atoms—repeat over and over again.  There are so many more ways to make crystals  than what we’re talking about today,   and also many more types of crystals than  the ones we’re showing.

What they have in   common—the unifying premise of a crystal—is  that their units, whatever they may be,   are arranged uniformly in a geometric way. But that makes it all sound so much more   rigid than things actually are, like it’s  all—in some cases literally—set in stone.  And yet, unliving as they are and as organized  as they may be, crystals are still messy. Take   diamonds, for example.

They may be hard and  rigid, but they’re simply one form of many   that carbon atoms can create together. But  if you throw enough time and energy at them,   those carbons inside of diamonds shift into a  new shape, becoming graphite in the process.  The ability to form these different shapes is  called polymorphism, and it can happen in crystals   derived from all sorts of building blocks. And it  can be the result of even simple things, like the   way you stir a reaction or the presence of some  kind of impurity.

It could even be happening in   our own home-grown crystals, though it’s hard  to tell based simply on what we’re looking at   and our sparse understanding of our own methods. But if these polymorphisms exist in our crystal,   it means there are a multitude of identities  buried within its austere appearance. Because   shape drives everything about how a crystal  like ours interacts with the world and with us,   whether that’s how it feels against our  skin or whether it twinkles to our eyes.  Our journey through the microcosmos takes us  through life forms who can often reveal things   about our past, about what life might  have looked like in its earliest days,   and the evolutionary forces that have  shaped what life has looked like since.  But these crystals—they’re the function of  something that feels so distinct from life itself.   Even if we’d never showed up on this planet,  there would still have been diamonds buried   underneath its surface.

There could still  have been some crystal somewhere that looked   like the ones we’ve grown. And perhaps it would  have changed and shifted into something else,   glowing somewhere even with  no microscope to see it.  Thank you for coming on this journey with us as  we explore the unseen world that surrounds us.  And thank you again to our amazing supporters over  at You’ll be seeing   some of their names on the screen pretty soon, and  that’s because having your name added to that list   is one of the rewards for signing up to support  this channel.

We have both a $2 and an $8 tier,   and by signing up you can receive weekly digital  wallpapers, our monthly hour long uncut videos,   and access to the Journey to the Microcosmos  community Discord where other viewers hang   out and talk about microscopy, these  videos, or just anything they want.  So, if you’d like to sign  up to support this channel,   head on over to And speaking of that community, don’t forget   we have our Microcosmos community survey in  the description below that you can fill out   to let us know a bit more about you and what  you like about Journey to the Microcosmos.  And, hey look, those names I just  mentioned. Thank you again to all of you for   supporting this channel through Patreon.

If you’d like to see more from our Master  of Microscopes James Weiss, make sure to check out Jam & Germs on Instagram,   and if you’d like to see more from us, there’s  probably a Subscribe button somewhere nearby.