What the coronavirus looks like up close

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What the coronavirus looks like up close 5

Seeing the virus up close helps us understand it.

The images of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that first appeared in humans in late 2019, were made using electron microscopy. The virus measures around 100 nanometers, and the smallest wavelengths of light that humans can see measure around 400 nanometers, meaning the virus is too small to see with a standard light microscope. To see something that small, you need a device that uses smaller wavelengths than light. Electrons, when accelerated in a field, behave as a wave with a tiny wavelength to accomplish this.

Two electron microscopy techniques, SEM and TEM, offer different views. A Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) scans the surface of a sample and records information that bounces back, similar to a satellite image. A Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) transmits electrons through a sample and projects a cross section of its inner structure. Together, these images help scientists observe the virus and how it moves in and out of host cells.

Read and see more about how the virus attacks our bodies in this New Yorker article:

Note: The headline for this video has been updated since publishing.
Previous headline: How images of coronavirus are made

Correction: At 4:07, an animation in a previous version of this video implied that antibodies coat the entire cell membrane, when they actually bind to specific proteins on the virus. The error has been corrected..

💬 Comments on the video

Idk what to watch but in the end of the quarantine I’m turning to a micro biologist

Author — Ichi Lee


Year 2022 some random youtuber : I injected myself with Coronavirus and this is what happened next.

Author — Yatin Jethi


I'm working in the bioimaging department of my university and electron microscopes are really fascinating! In the last decades, microscopy techniques have become so sophisticated that individual atoms can now be tracked for quite some time. Last year, scientists even managed to record two atoms bonding for the first time (would love to make a video about this myself in the nearer future). This might not sound revolutionary but just imagine, we slowly become able to really observe processes which have been only theoretically described!

Author — Life Lab Learner


"This is something that can be tackled and overcome"

Give me a lot of hope

Author — Tadanari Lee


I used to be a TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope) user, it's really a fascinating and very sophisticated technique.

Author — Abdesselam Sallak


We see ourselves as masters of this planet, top of the food chain, captain's of the oceans, and explorers of space. A living organism 100nm small can bring a planet to its knees.

Author — Jc Dias


Wishing everyone good health. Be strong and please stay safe

Author — Grace Morgan speaks Youtube Channel


Is it just me or has this pandemic really shown how level-headed and reassuring our scientific and medical community is?

Author — Charli Hueter


When Vox gives you more information than news channels.

Author — Sameer Tripathi


people with the flu I'm staying in bed for 3 months
people with covid19 I will sail the 7 seas

Author — Miles Marable


I think it’s funny how he introduces the expert as “my colleague Liz’s dad, ” it’s like when you’re a kid and you introduce your friends parents as the friend’s mom and dad.

Author — Bexleby Starshine


Learned about microscopes in biology but didn’t get the types until now.

Thank you, Vox, can’t thank how many times you’ve made learning abstract ideas tangible

Author — Invisible Man


As a health care worker who is dealing with covid patients daily, hearing that this can be tackeled almost made me cry. Thank you. I needed it after todays sift.

Author — marulisu


I literally just googled ‘corona virus microscopic image’ 2 hours ago and then you uploaded this. Vox, are you my soulmate?

Author — Sehuntiago Señor


Thank you for making informative videos based on science and research and not sensationalism

Author — GoncasCrazy


All this time I kept wondering why everyone's graphic design uses a red virus, when imaging could be colored any way we want. Red alert, I guess.

Author — no body


RE: where corona gets its name - they weirdly didn't mention that "corona" is Latin for "crown" - the halo of spikes around the virus particle represented by the points of a crown

Author — Sam Blackmore


I'd like to add in 3:20 that colouring in SEM or TEM images can be deceptive because it tends to accentuate minute differences. We tend to prefer keeping these images in black/white for most authenticity

Author — Steven Samuel


Who else likes Vox’s science videos more than the other stuff?

Author — Gregory Brew


Thank goodness we have microscopes and scientists

Author — The Entertainers