The Myth of Fingerprints

Cabinet of Wonders

So I came across my own post on fingerprints, from way back in 2008, and was suddenly captivated.  I wanted to find more out about spider monkeys and other prehensile tail-prints.  And to see if anyone else had any interest in fingerprints out there.

Much to my astonishment, there is one man, Jean-Francois Manguet, who is not only interested in the history of fingerprints but also in the science of skin and how fingerprint technology is portrayed in movies, among many other things.  It looks like Manguet is an engineer who “invented the sweeping technique for direct silicon fingerprint scanning.” He was the chief scientist on the FingerChip, a fingerprint sensor project.  Since then, he has followed all things fingerprint-y, including the biometrics of fingerprinting and the physics of fingerprint sensor technology.  It’s quite worth a browse around the site, despite the technical obscurity of some of the pages.

(Also, check out his blog and watch the progression of the apparently somewhat-failed fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S).

Environment in a Book

Cabinet of Wonders
Yusuke Oono, a Japanese artist, has discovered an amazing way to take the book form and make little environments out of it.  He calls them 360 degree books: you open them and fan them out into a round, and then his laser-cut pages come to life, creating incredibly intimate little scenes.
 Here is Jungle Book, from the outside in:
This one is called Sweet Home:
Here we have In a Cheese:

There are many, many more pictures on his website.  They’re so interior, they satisfy my instinct for secret little places; for odd, non-rectilinear architecture. Makes me want to get a lasercutter!

Found Poem

Cabinet of Wonders

To Walter de la Mare

The children who explored the brook and found 
A desert island with a sandy cove
(A hiding place, but very dangerous ground,
For here the water buffalo may rove,
The kinkajou, the mungabey, abound
In the dark jungle of a mango grove,
And shadowy lemurs glide from tree to tree -
The guardians of some long-lost treasure-trove)
Recount their exploits at the nursery tea
And when the lamps are lit and curtains drawn
Demand some poetry, please.
Whose shall it be,
At not quite time for bed? ...
Or when the lawn
Is pressed by unseen feet, and ghosts return
Gently at twilight, gently go at dawn,
The sad intangible who grieve and yearn;
When the familiar is suddenly strange
Or the well known is what we yet have to learn,
And two worlds meet, and intersect, and change;
When cats are maddened in the moonlight dance,
Dogs cower, flitter bats, and owls range
At witches' sabbath of the maiden aunts;
When the nocturnal traveller can arouse
No sleeper by his call; or when by chance
An empty face peers from an empty house;
By whom, and by what means, was this designed?
The whispered incantation which allows
Free passage to the phantoms of the mind?
By you; by those deceptive cadences
Wherewith the common measure is refined;
By conscious art practised with natural ease;
By the delicate, invisible web you wove -
The inexplicable mystery of sound.
-- T. S. Eliot

Monday Brain Fodder: Light-Conductive Skeletons

Cabinet of Wonders

(“Hexactinellae” from Ernst Haeckel‘s Kunstformen der Natur, 1904)

The Venus Flower Basket is a type of hexactinellid sponge found in deep ocean waters.  Here’s what Wikipedia says about them:

“The glassy fibers that attach the sponge to the ocean floor, 5-20 cm long and thin as human hair, are of interest to fiber optics researchers. The sponge extracts silicic acid from seawater and converts it into silica, then forms it into an elaborate skeleton of glass fibers…

These sponges’ skeletons have amazing geometric configurations, which have been extensively studied for their stiffness, yield strength, and minimal crack propagation. An aluminum tube (aluminum and glass have similar elastic modulus) of equal length, effective thickness, and radius, but homogeneously distributed, has 1/100th the stiffness.”

Not only that, but the spicules, the (sort of) hairs of the animal, consist of a fine silica glass thread covered with a reflective coating, just like fibre optic thread, but thinner — and so flexible that they can be tied into a knot without breaking.  Unlike man-made glass fibres, they are formed at normal temperatures, allowing the sponge to build the spicules out of the very specific chemicals that make it so able to carry light — something scientists wish they could reproduce.

One last weird thing about these sponges:  “the majority of their soft tissue is made of a giant multinucleated cell, not individual cells like other animals. Because of this, at least one species can send electrical signals through the whole animal, in the same way that signals travel through nerves. These signals are typically in response to touch or to sediment in the water. The signal reaches all parts of the sponge and causes the sponge to stop filtering water. After a few minutes, the sponge will start its filtering again, but if the irritation is still there it will stop again, and it will keep testing the water in this way until the water is clear of sediment or the disturbance has gone.”
(– Glass Sponges and Sponge Reefs in BC Waters, by Dr. Sally Leys, University of Alberta)

Lastly, although their skeletons are made of silica (glass), they are still flexible.  How do they do that?

I can’t help but wonder: what if, through genetic manipulation, glass sponges are able to build things for us? Armor, architecture and lightweight, strong vehicle panels — all of which can also be used to communicate information via their spicules…

More on sponges in general, and glass sponges in particular (about halfway down).

Also, a video about the brilliant strength and structural design in glass sponges.