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#002 #HairyTheFly - Ping-Pong and Poetry Between Art and Science (SciArt)

How #HairyTheFly SciArt started

Welcome to the story about the artistic collaboration of Stefan Meichtry and Langley Anderson, and how their art of the house fly #HairyTheFly came to be.

Langley Anderson collaborated with Stefan Meichtry, a Swiss chemical engineer, who provided scanning electron micrographs of a fly coated with gold. These are images from an ultra-high resolution field emission scanning electron microscope. The "in-lens' '-detector was used with 5kV at a working distance of 10mm. Langley Anderson digitally enhanced the black-and-white images with expressionistic hues.

Due to Stefan's red-green deficiency, there were repeated discussions about the colors used and therefore their art is colour-blind aware.



Photo of a house fly.

Figure 1a: #HairyTheFly under the normal light microscopeHeight: 1.4-2.9 mm, Width: 1.3-2.5 mm, Length: 4-8 mm, Wingspan: 13-15 mm,Scientific Name: Musca domestica, Lifespan: 15-30 days.


Sample preparation

Scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) are versatile tools that can provide nanoscale-level information about a wide range of samples with little or no sample preparation. 


How does SEM work?

SEMs can image all kinds of samples: ceramics, metals and alloys, semiconductors, polymers, biological samples, and much more. However, certain types of samples are more challenging and require an extra step as the sample is prepared to gather high-quality information. In some cases, sputter coating the samples before working with SEMs is necessary to obtain a good-quality SEM image and avoid electrical charging. This extra step involves coating your sample with an additional thin layer of about 10 nanometers (nm) of a conductive material such as gold, silver, platinum, or chromium.Sputter coating can be an effective technique for obtaining high-quality SEM images when working with challenging samples such as beam-sensitive and non-conductive materials.


In the case of Hairy, he was sputter-coated with gold! 


This animation will help you to understand what sputtering is and how sputter deposition works: YouTube.


SEM-Images - A Grayscale microcosmos

Let's zoom-in! 

With a FE SEM (Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope)  it’s quite easy to zoom by turning the magnification knob. 

One hexagon eye section is approximately 20 micrometer.

To help compare different orders of magnitude (reference):

  • 100 µm – 1/10 of a millimeter

  • 100 µm – 0.00394 inches

  • 100 µm – average diameter of a strand of human hair 

How do we select different regions?

The so-called points of interest (POI‘s) are selected by following the curiosity of the SEM-User… Let’s see what it looks like over there… ah no… over there looks better… let’s change the inclination of the table…. And it’s never easy to choose the best magnification as you miss other parts which are interesting as well…


What makes a good image?

A good image has a certain drama. Like a scene in a movie. Sometimes it’s easy to find the sweet spot and sometimes you have to fly around like a micronaut for quite a long time… 


How long does it take to acquire an image?

It depends on the resolution. High resolution images take much longer. If each line is scanned several times the quality can be increased tremendously. Once you found the right POI it takes several minutes to scan the images in a good quality. But usually it takes much longer to find the right place to scan…

SEM images from different subregions of the fly

Figure 2: Image shows grayscale SEM images acquired from #HairyTheFly.

In particular at low voltages and small working distances, images with high contrast can be obtained. Besides information about morphology and surface topography, the in-lens detector images differ in the work function (e.g., electronic variations) on the sample with high lateral resolution. On the other hand, in the images recorded by the conventional secondary electron detector, the topographic information is dominant.

Measuring Conditions: Acceleration voltage (EHT): 5kV WD:4-6mm Inlens-Detector


Here Comes the Colour - Thanks to Langley!

showcase of different fly subregions imaged with an SEM and coloured to create SciArt

Langley Anderson has always been fascinated by the alluring forms of nature. The intricate details of their structure seem to have parallels to the elements and principles of art and design. She felt compelled to further explore this relationship between science and art.

When adding color to the composition, Langley starts with vivid hues, often playing with complementary color combinations: blue and oranges, purples and yellows, etc. The process of painting color layers can take hours upon hours. It can be a tedious yet satisfying task and listening to music while she works makes it more fun! She will tweak the multiple layers of color until she feels somewhat content with results. After sending the work to Stefan for his opinion,  (sometimes Langley forgets about his color blindness), the two will go back and forth, sharing their thoughts about which colors should be further adjusted, and eventually they come to a color consensus.


As a result of their collaboration, Stefan gave Hairy it’s name and wrote a poem about it, linking the charging problem of scanning electron microscopy with Greek mythology. You can find the poem here.


 #HairyTheFly was born. But it still lacked a voice.

So, for gender-technical reasons, the fly was to be given both a male and a female voice.

Together, their collaboration and joint work expresses a reciprocity between science and art, showing the inherent beauty of nature in a new way. It also demonstrates how effective science communication can take shape . Perhaps a long and complicated article can be summarized with a colorful picture and a scientific poem.... What do you think about this idea? 


Langley Anderson

Stefan Meichtry








Artist; Instructor of Art History, Photography, and Studio Art at Radford University, Radford, VA.

Chemical Engineer with a background in forensic analysis. Mainly microscopy, FT-IR and SEM. Interested in SciArt.








Equipment / Software


ZEISS EVO MA 10 with a EDX-Detector from Oxford Instruments

Authors: Stefan Meichtry and Langley Anderson | Affiliate Science Artists


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