Diatoms are a major group of algae and the most common type of phytoplankton. They pervade the aquatic environments, both fresh water and salt water. Collectively, they are the largest mass of photosynthetic life thus one of earths largest carbon dioxide sinks. These microscopic plants have a skeleton made of silica which is left behind after they die and form the source of diatomaceous earth.
Diatoms are usually unicellular, but can exist as colonies. There are about 100,000 species of diatoms in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Diatoms have an amazingly intricate and beautiful cell wall (called a frustule) when studied using a scanning electron microscope. Images of these frustules that I have found searching the internet form the inspiration for this series.
I cannot do justice to some of the more intricate frustules, but have attempted to reveal their beauty and structure. As in some of my other explorations with math and nature, I have found some of these patterns revealed in the diatoms. One of the more interesting formed the inspiration for Diatom 2. It’s frustule was composed of a lattice of hexagons that built up a spherical cell wall. On close inspection I found that there were a few pentagons mixed in the structure. This led me to explore the geometry of building domes using hexagons. Buckminster Fuller was the pioneer in geodesic domes and one of the most basic domes he built was known as the “Bucky Ball”. He found that you cannot build a dome, or sphere, with just hexagon units, an occasional pentagon is required in a pattern. A very simple example of the mix of hexagons and pentagons is the soccer ball. Nature figured this all out millions of years before Buckminster Fuller.