A life-and-death struggle fueled by a simple drop of water is captured in a photograph by Michael Zach at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Zach brought microbes to life by adding water to a salt sample he had found near Death Valley, thus dissolving the sample’s crystals. As the water evaporated, crystals began to reform, creating the prism-like colors captured in this winning picture from the 2009 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.
But the desert-dwelling microbes were able to survive by excreting molecules that helped prevent crystal growth—an adaptation that allows the microbes to escape a salty death trap.

A life-and-death struggle fueled by a simple drop of water is captured in a photograph by Michael Zach at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Zach brought microbes to life by adding water to a salt sample he had found near Death Valley, thus dissolving the sample’s crystals. As the water evaporated, crystals began to reform, creating the prism-like colors captured in this winning picture from the 2009 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

But the desert-dwelling microbes were able to survive by excreting molecules that helped prevent crystal growth—an adaptation that allows the microbes to escape a salty death trap.