They live anywhere and everywhere there’s water, they're invisible to the naked eye, and they're essential to life on Earth: They're diatoms!

Sometimes called “floating solar panels” and “nature’s glass houses,” diatoms are likely the most under-appreciated (and strikingly beautiful) organisms responsible for the air we breathe. Take a tour through the Academy’s world-renowned diatom collection, get a closeup look at these microscopic jewels, and learn how researchers are studying phytoplankton in Antarctica through community science.

  • Join Chrissy Garcia, the Geology Collections Manager at the Academy, for a crash-course in diatoms: what they are, why they’re important, and how the Academy acquired a world-renowned (and most well documented) diatom collection.
  • The cell walls of diatoms are made of transparent silica (i.e. glass), which means they don’t decompose and instead leave a jewel of a fossil record, which artists have been using as a medium since the 19th century. Take a journey through the incredible beauty of the Academy’s collection with Steve Mandel, research associate at UC Santa Cruz and award-winning photographer.
  • Yes, diatoms can even live in polar waters. Join Allison Cusick, biological oceanographer, and Martina Mascioni, phytoplankton ecologist, on a virtual trip to Antarctica, where they’re harnessing the power of community science to investigate how melting glaciers are affecting the phytoplankton along the Antarctic Peninsula.


NightSchool is live on the first & third Thursdays of every month.

All NightSchool virtual programming is intended for audiences 21+.



Missed the party? Just want to relive the magic? Watch the recorded livestreams on YouTube!



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Upcoming events

December 7th at 6:00 pm

Santa Claude is comin’ to town! Shop your heart away at our merry marketplace of gift-worthy treasures.

December 14th at 6:00 pm

See what’s revealed once the sun goes down and explore the nocturnal side of the Academy.