Art In Aberration

This image from Caltech’s semiannual Art of Science competition highlights the beauty of scientific mistakes. Graduate student Chen Xu, who works in materials science, was attempting to plate a smooth layer of gold on top of a truss—a carefully designed lattice functioning as a cathode—for a lithium-oxygen battery, a very clean and reusable type of battery. Formed out of a polymer, the truss must be plated with gold to make it conductive. But when the precious metal was being plated onto the structure, the process went too fast and the gold formed the flowery, tree-like crystals, called dendrites, seen above. Each “bouquet” or node is about 150 microns across, or approximately double the thickness of a human hair. The photo was taken using a scanning electron microscope, a machine that shoots focused beams of electrons at a specimen and measures the scattering to get very high-resolution images.