Monday, April 28, 2008

You know you're a geek when...

If you've been following my blog at all, you know that I just bought a microscope. "What the hell does Travis need a microscope for?", you might ask.

I will give you an example.

I'm playing with my cat Fred yesterday, and she accidentally scratched me hard enough to draw blood. Did I do what any sensible person would do and suck at my finger and moan at the soreness of my finger?

No, I said, "Hey! I could do a slide of this!" and rushed off to the microscope and prepared a blood smear.

Results below.

Fred pre-scratch:

Blood cells under the microscope at 400x magnification (the blurriness is due to the camera - it looks much sharper under the microscope - upper left is the clearest):

And, just to give you the full coolness of looking at your own blood under the microscope, here is a video of the blood being moved via capillary action between the slide and the slip:

Some really cool things to note:
  • The cells stack in single file, even after they are on the slide. Red blood cells can only move in single file in the smallest capillaries like the ones at the end of your finger. So, since these came from the end of my finger, they stayed stacked that way.
  • This is the very tiniest drop you can imagine. I barely was able to squeeze it from the end of my finger and yet there are THOUSANDS of cells. The blood covers about 1 cm x 1 cm on the slide and the view here is only a small portion of that, yet still there are hundreds, probably even thousands of cells in view. It's pretty impressive that they all work together.
  • Not visible here, but I noticed after looking for a while are little spiky balls mixed in with the red blood cells. I thought they might be dust on the slide or something, but after looking it up on-line, they are, indeed white blood cells. They are pale, but more yellow than white and actually look like a burr that catches on your clothes in the bush.
  • Even after trying hard to thin out the drop of blood, the group of cells is 3d and under full magnification, you can see the top layer and move through the layers by playing with the focus. For the first few minutes, the blood is continuing to move around.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

First images with my new microscope

Here are a couple of pictures I took with my digital camera over the eye-piece.

So, at 40x magnifiaction, here is an insect wing:

Interesting things that I have learned by looking at this - insect wings (of this insect - I don't even know what it is - I found just the wing in a spider's web on the outside of my house) is covered in tiny hairs. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting that. Also - as you zoom in closer and closer, something as big as this insect wing will only have small pieces in focus at a time.

And some table sugar crystals:

These are very much 3D through the eye piece and even at low magnification, you can only focus on a bit of the crystal. I added a drop of water and watched it gradually melt away - very cool.

The sharp, black arrow on the right hand side and extending into the middle is a part of the eye piece and lets you find things after you've changed the magnification.

As you can probably tell from these images, it's actually quite difficult to get a perfect image through the digital camera. I will almost certainly get a tool to connect the two so I can take better pictures. BUT, for now, this is pretty cool.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Got my new/old microscope today

I have been reading a lot about biology and evolution and decided that I wanted to see some of it first hand. I know this is geeky, but I haven't been so excited for any purchase in a while, so it is worth it.

I went onto trademe and bought a cheap kid's microscope that magnifies up to 900x. This was a big mistake, since it was cheap with a poor design (I could go on for a page about it) and the optics were so crap that it was unusable and I would have smashed it if I'd HAD to keep it too long.

So, I asked if I could return it and Pipsqueaks took it back. I have to say, their service was excellent and they didn't do anything except contact me to ask what they could do to help out.

I then went looking on trademe again and found someone selling their grandfather's old microscope for a reasonable price. I knew from looking previously, that any lab microscope of similar quality would cost $400 or so, so decided to go for the buy now of $120.

Now that I have it, I am glad that I did. Take a look at my microscope:

Note the coarse and fine focusing and note also that the optics don't move, only the specimen tray does. The eyepiece also revolves a full 360 degrees, so without moving the base, you can view from a different positions.

There is a 10x eyepiece and 4x, 10x and 40x objective lenses (totals of 40, 100 and 400 times magnification).

The optics are high quality so I have no complaints and I've been cutting up things to take a look at them. I think I will look for an attachment so I can mount my digital camera on there. It is very cool.