Several years ago I took my daughter to “The Art of the Brick” exhibition in New York City. At first, my husband and I were pretty skeptical about how interesting it would be. What could you possibly do with Legos that hasn’t been done before? We had been to the Legoland in Yonkers, where whole cities were built out of Legos, and the Toys R Us at Times Square with its famous Lego Empire State Building, so we could not imagine being surprised with anything drastically new. Little did we know…
Is resolution important for recognition?
As you may imagine, we were completely dumbfounded once we walked in. Nathan Sawaya has an amazing talent for portraying world famous paintings and sculptures by just using Legos. One of the things that really struck me was how little detail is necessary for a picture to come together. The Lego depictions of well known masterpieces looked like somebody took a highly pixelated photo of the painting, with just enough detail to make it recognizable.
Here is an example of the “Girl with a Pearl Earring” painting made out of Legos to show what I mean.
People have actually studied the lower limits of resolution necessary for objects to be recognized. When it comes to faces, especially familiar faces, the minimal resolution appears to be as low as 7 X 10 pixels as described in more detail here and here. Despite what would appear to be a very poor resolution, people are able to recognize what they know.
How about in science?
The same principle applies to confocal microscopy. When you begin to look for an image of your sample, you are likely to start out with a relatively blurry image. As you continue to fine tune the settings, beautiful cellular structures begin to appear in bold, bright colors.
We all aim for higher resolution for a publication quality image, where each pixel plays an important role in making the whole image recognizable and informative. Converting confocal images into 3D renderings made of beads allows me to capture this quality. Each bead acts like a pixel and is necessary for the whole object to come together and show its precise structure and identity. Using very fine beads allows me to capture the image at a “high resolution” and makes it that much more pleasurable.
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