Holy Crap! It's a Gold Spider! But Why?

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Here's a picture that's beautiful and terrifying in equal measure. It's a spider coated in a very fine layer of gold. We'll tell you why people have made this gorgeous monstrosity, and what happens next.

This is actually a preparatory step to creating an even more incredible image. This spider, put on display as it is in the Australian Museum, has just been readied for scanning electron microscopy.

Getting a sample ready for scanning electron microscopy can be a long process. The sample needs to be meticulously cleaned, or you'll just get an image of grime. (Although, thanks to scanning electron microscopy, we have a lot of beautiful images of the components of grime.) The sample also usually has to be prepped for exposure to a vacuum, as air particles will get in the way of the electrons. Finally, the object has to be covered in a conductive material. Insulating materials can, over the course of a scanning session, slowly build up charge on their surface. The incoming electrons interact with that charge and throw off the image. Any sample that isn't metal is coated in a conductive material like gold, platinum, tungsten, or carbon.


The type of metal is dictated by the type of picture. Carbon is good for analysis of the materials that the sample comprises. Gold makes for a detailed picture that highlights structural elements. Since everyone already knows the material make up of spiders - pure evil - in this case the museum got a gold-covered arachnid.

[Via Scanning Electron Microscopy, How SEM Works.]