Seeing the invisible: van Leeuwenhoek’s first glimpses of the microbial world

7 minutes

Jonah stands up

16 minutes

Want a whole new body? Ask this flatworm how

5 minutes

ORIGINAL

Dance, dance evolution

4 minutes

Ins holz (In the woods)

13 minutes

‘I could not but wonder at it’: history’s first glimpses into the microbial world

‘What do you do when you see things that no one has ever seen before?’

When the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek pointed a new, handcrafted microscope down into a jar of algae in 1674, he became the first person to learn of the microbial world. ‘And the motion of most of them in the water was so swift and so various, upwards, downwards, and round about, that I confess I could not but wonder at it,’ he later wrote to the Royal Society of London. What followed was one of the most outstanding cascades of scientific breakthroughs in history: from bacteria to protozoa to sperm to blood cells we learned that the vast majority of life is invisible to the naked eye and, in many cases, fundamentally inseparable from us. 

This imaginative animation from Sweet Fern Productions probes van Leeuwenhoek’s first glimpses of the microbial world, as well as the indelible mark his work left on science and the ongoing quest to understand how microscopic life shapes our existence.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

Exit, pursued by Death: a young artist and rabble-rouser mines comedy from mortality

In her short documentary Jonah Stands Up, the US director Hannah Engelson profiles her friend Jonah Bascle: a creative, defiant spirit and New Orleans native who is dealing with a terminal heart condition related to his muscular dystrophy. The setup might sound familiar, but the short film and its subject are refreshingly subversive, refusing to fall into tired clichés about confronting disability and illness with bravery. A scrappy and heartfelt DIY production, the film uses animations inspired by Bascle’s artwork, footage of his standup comedy sets, and emotionally raw doctor’s visits to tell his story. Through Engelson’s tribute, Bascle is never presented as an inspirational force, but rather as the many things – a 20something artist, a disability-rights advocate, a rabble-rousing political candidate, a friend – he was in life.

Director: Hannah Engelson

The blob with a superpower: cut a flatworm in four pieces and watch it regenerate four-fold

Planarians are small flatworms that live in wet and humid areas around the globe. Although these creatures are relatively simple, their small, soft bodies possess one of the most amazing secrets in the animal kingdom. Cut a planarian into as many as 279 pieces and, within a few weeks, each bit will regenerate into a full new worm – head, eyes, digestive system and all. This incredible ability raises interesting questions for philosophers, who might wonder which, if any, of these worms is the ‘original’, and for medical researchers, who are hoping to harness the adaptability of planarian’s powerful regenerative stem cells to help regrow tissue, and potentially even limbs, on humans. Read more about this video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer and Writer: Gabriela Quirós

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

Dance seems to be the ultimate frivolity. How did it become a human necessity?

Every culture dances. Moving our bodies to music is ubiquitous throughout human history and across the globe. So why is this ostensibly frivolous act so fundamental to being human? The answer, it seems, is in our need for social cohesion – that vital glue that keeps societies from breaking apart despite interpersonal differences. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) theorised that ‘collective effervescence’ – moments in which people come together in some form of unifying, excitement-inducing activity – is at the root of what holds groups together. More recently, Bronwyn Tarr, an evolutionary biologist and psychologist at the University of Oxford who is also a dancer, has researched the evolutionary and neurological underpinnings of our innate tendency to bust a move. Drawing on the work of both Durkheim and Tarr, this Aeon Original video explores that unifying feeling of group ‘electricity’ that lifts us up when we’re enthralled by our favourite sports teams, participating in religious rituals, entranced by music – and, yes, dancing the night away.

Directors and Animators: Rosanna Wan, Andrew Khosravani

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Writer: Sam Dresser

Associate producer: Adam D’Arpino

Sound designers: Eli Cohn, Ben Chesneau, Maya Peart

Narrator: Simon Mattacks

Surgeons with chainsaws – the breathtaking craft of logging on a Swiss mountainside

In most of the world, logging is now largely the work of massive machinery. But in the steeply sloped woods above Lake Ägeri in Switzerland, a combination of chainsaws, jacks, muscles and gravity is still the most effective means of bringing down trees for lumber. Once every four years, skilled loggers travel to the area to collect mature trees in a sustainable harvesting tradition that, in turn, allows saplings to take in sunlight and flourish. After felling the trees at careful angles, the workers send them careening through the woods with spectacular speed and force until they reach the water below with a satisfying splash. From there, the timber is floated downriver into town. The loggers’ confident expertise masks the immense dangers of the job, which could easily turn deadly in an instant. With stunning cinematography, Ins holz (In the woods) offers a rare look at this nearly extinct practice and the culture that surrounds it, making for a deeply visceral and visually stunning celebration of a hard day’s work.

Directors: Thomas Horat, Corina Schwingruber Ilic

Website: Mythenfilm

‘I could not but wonder at it’: history’s first glimpses into the microbial world

‘What do you do when you see things that no one has ever seen before?’

When the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek pointed a new, handcrafted microscope down into a jar of algae in 1674, he became the first person to learn of the microbial world. ‘And the motion of most of them in the water was so swift and so various, upwards, downwards, and round about, that I confess I could not but wonder at it,’ he later wrote to the Royal Society of London. What followed was one of the most outstanding cascades of scientific breakthroughs in history: from bacteria to protozoa to sperm to blood cells we learned that the vast majority of life is invisible to the naked eye and, in many cases, fundamentally inseparable from us. 

This imaginative animation from Sweet Fern Productions probes van Leeuwenhoek’s first glimpses of the microbial world, as well as the indelible mark his work left on science and the ongoing quest to understand how microscopic life shapes our existence.

Director: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

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