Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Like stringy green brains

with 18 comments

Drying Green Algae Looking Like Brains 3305

Yep, stringy green brains, that’s what some types of algae look like when they begin to dry out. Perhaps no one else has seen algae quite that way because when I did a Google search for “stringy green brains” I got asked if I meant “stringy green beans” or “string green beans,” but there were no hits for my “stringy green brains” search string. Coincidentally, when I recently attended a talk by physicist Steven Weinberg, who lives in Austin, he said there is so far no good experimental evidence for string theory. And I’m not stringing you along when I say that the picture above is from a tributary of Bull Creek on January 29th, and that two years ago I referred to algae in this configuration as corrugated.

In the picture below, from a different tributary of Bull Creek on February 13th, you get to compare a somewhat drier patch of algae. If you want to keep on being cerebral, now you can think of these algae as neurons. Just don’t let the neuralgae give you neuralgia.

Algae Still Green But Drying Out 5131A

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 16, 2016 at 5:11 AM

18 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Steven : This is a neat find and an excellemt image…demonstrating nature’s efficient design.


    February 16, 2016 at 5:42 AM

    • That’s an interesting suggestion, Dan: that the way these strands dry may be the most efficient one possible under the circumstances. I wonder if any scientists have investigated that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 16, 2016 at 6:29 AM

  2. It seems the algae prompted a few brainwaves for this post. My neural network has been quite strung out for these past few days what with quakes and toothache. An MRI might reveal my brain in a similar state to your algae. An x-ray revealed a cracked filling.


    February 16, 2016 at 7:15 AM

    • Linda (shoreacres) is fond of citing Leonard Cohen’s lines from “Anthem”: “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” We can hope that your cracked filling leads to enlightenment. The first fulfilling step is clearly to get that crack repaired, which you may already have done. We also hope your neural network has caught some repose by now.

      If the algae prompted a few brainwaves in you, it just reminded me of a now-famous grammatical but semantically obscure sentence by linguist Noam Chomsky: “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 16, 2016 at 7:35 AM

      • Ha! Well, to Chomsky I would say, ‘But, of course, without plentiful sleep ideas will never mature into their full, colorful selves.” Obviously letting the light shine through the crack has brought me enough enlightenment to make sense of nonsense.


        February 16, 2016 at 9:59 PM

  3. Weinberg eh? Did you enjoy his talk. I would think so. He has seen a lot of historical events in physics. I wonder what he thinks of LIGO and gravity waves. I was impressed. http://bit.ly/1KTRnS7

    Jim Ruebush

    February 16, 2016 at 7:34 AM

    • One advantage of living in Austin is carryover from the University of Texas. Until 12 years ago we lived on the east side of town, closer to there, and found it more convenient to go to events on campus. In any case, Weinberg’s talk wasn’t on campus, and we went. Because he was speaking to a general audience, he explained things without getting too involved in the specifics. One of the points he made is that since about a century ago, the outlines of how things work haven’t changed, although of course the details keep getting refined.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 16, 2016 at 8:04 AM

      • Describing to non-technical audiences challenges presenters. Some are able to do it very well. I’ve heard him speak, not in person. He is good at it.

        The devil is in the details. It is really hard to get the technology right in order to measure what you suspect is present. This LIGO story is so real to me. I’ve used interferometers many times at school for various demos. I like their simplicity and sensitivity.

        Jim Ruebush

        February 16, 2016 at 8:22 AM

        • I figured the discovery would mean more to you than to many people, given your decades of involvement with physics.

          Going off on (only a little bit of) a tangent, I remember the large headlines on my local newspaper in 1955 the morning after Einstein died.

          Steve Schwartzman

          February 16, 2016 at 9:51 AM

  4. Stringy green brains describes it perfectly I think. “Just don’t let the neuralgae give you neuralgia” – I wonder if that is the cause of my bouts. Algae on the brain perhaps? Next time the electric shock pains in the face arrive I will remember your interesting picture, Steve. Who knows what is living in the murky pond that lies within my head. 🙂


    February 16, 2016 at 5:07 PM

    • If you really have algae on the brain, Jane, I think that’ll be a first for medical science and you could end up as Patient Zero in future textbooks. If these pictures help ease electric shock pains in the face, then they’ll have served a better purpose than any I imagined.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 16, 2016 at 7:20 PM

  5. When I was very much younger, and living in a much colder climate, I had a coat made from Persian lamb. It’s amazing, really, that the patterns in the algae and the fur look so much the same.

    I wonder if there’s a purpose to its drying that way. Dan’s comment about efficient design reminded me of alligator scutes. The bony plates raise up the skin, in order to increase the surface area and absorb more heat. Perhaps those twisted curls help to retain moisture.


    February 16, 2016 at 9:59 PM

    • If the twisted curls are an attempt to conserve moisture, it’s a futile attempt: without another rain, the algae dry out soon after the “brain” phase. Whether the delay could be long enough to serve some purpose (perhaps the production of spores or something similar), I can’t say. As much as I like to photograph algae, I confess to knowing almost nothing about them. I could say the same about most of the other things I photograph. Oh, to know more….

      Maybe the algae and the lamb coat are another example of convergent evolution.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 16, 2016 at 10:10 PM

  6. I thought it looked like paint that was applied over something that did not allow it to adhere. Or what a finish looks like when stripper has been applied. But brains, yeah, I can see that too.

    Steve Gingold

    February 21, 2016 at 4:03 AM

    • I didn’t know that strippers perform with algae. I thought they use their brains to apply themselves to other things. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’ll try to adhere to more-literal answers.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 21, 2016 at 7:50 AM

  7. Another example of details with  exceptional beauty. And an awesome photo 🙂


    March 6, 2016 at 9:41 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: