Scott LaFee wrote up a great little history of the petri dish in the San Diego Union-Tribune — it’s a fascinating piece about a piece of scientific equipment that’s so important and pervasive that pretty much every lay person out there knows its name and function. And in addition to the simple dish’s role driving science forward a million different times a day, it’s also been the palette for some pretty cool art, some mathematical theories about fractal development, and even the appearance of a major diety; there are literally a million derivatives of the petri dish, from three-dimensional ones to ones that fit on the head of a pin. Very cool indeed, especially given that it’s an invention by a scientist whose career was otherwise unremarkable.

(One note: while doing a few searches to write this post, I stumbled across this Flickr posting of a petri dish, and immediately recognized it as stolen from this scientist’s online gallery of his own petri dishes. The part of it that I find the most galling is that the Flickr user, Jack Mottram, assigned a Creative Commons license to the photo that demands that others attribute any reuse of the image back to him, as if he has any rights to the photo to begin with. That’s severely broken.) Update: he appears to have added a credit for the photo and removed the CC license… but I’d argue that it’s still not kosher to have the image in his Flickr photostream at all.