None of these photographs details an area as large as the period at the end of this sentence. They were taken with a camera attached to a scanning electron microscope at the University of maryland baltimore county .

The process is known as scanning photomicrography, a fancy name for a way of exploring this tiny world's grandeur with Phillip Rutledge, 41, director of the electron microscope facility.

First the yellow jacket was chemically preserved, then they were coated with a layer of gold palladium -- a metal that helps the tissue conduct and respond to the electron beam. The thickness of the coating is between 150 and 200 angstroms (there are 250,000,000 angstroms to the inch).

The insect was placed in the microscope, which is in a vacuum. As the microscope directs a beam of electrons across the specimen's, a signal is returned: electrons bounced or emitted off each point on the specimen's surface. Technicians watch a television screen as the signal forms a topographic record of the cell surface, magnified up to 180,00 times.

By computer or by hand, the pictures can be tinted to enhance the images, and this is where nature's artwork meets that of the photographer.

nTC I hand-colored the images in a manner that to my mind's eye "worked" -- in other words, I had fun. I hope you have fun looking at them.

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