These aren't blue flowers growing from soil. Rather they are crystals of silica and barium carbonate grown on the surface of a glass slide. Wim L. Noorduin, a postdoc at Harvard University, coaxes the crystals into forms that resemble leaves, stems and petals before photographing them through a scanning electron microscope. Afterward he adds false colors to the black-and-white images.
The variations in form come from tweaks to the temperature, acidity or carbon dioxide content of a chemical solution. His self-assembly technique, published in May in Science, could someday supplant costly, time-consuming lithography for making microchips. Noorduin's methods could also increase the efficiency of chemical catalysts by imbuing them with frilly, folded surfaces that accelerate chain reactions.
This article was originally published with the title What is it?.