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These Kaleidoscopic Masterpieces Are Invisible to the Naked Eye

With between 20,000 and 2 million species, diatoms are one of the largest and most important ecological groups of organisms. Through photosynthesis, it’s been estimated that these single-cell algae produce up to one-quarter of the Earth’s oxygen. In addition to their important role within the ecosystem, diatoms also possess uniquely beautiful cell structures. During the Victorian era, this beauty inspired artists to position the jewel-like cells into dazzling arrangements under the lens of the microscope. This unusual art form was almost lost with time, but was recently revived by modern-day microscopist Klaus Kemp. Struck by the beauty and symmetry of diatoms, Kemp worked obsessively for 8 years to perfect his own technique.

In this short film by Matthew Killip, peer into the peculiar art of diatom arrangement and witness a modern-day diatom master at work.

The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the world and selected by National Geographic editors. We look for work that affirms National Geographic's belief in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world. To submit a film for consideration, please email The filmmakers created the content presented, and the opinions expressed are their own, not those of National Geographic Partners.