Always wanted to make your own slides, but can't get the mountant?! Micscape Magazine brings you a tip from the Amateurs... something to keep you glued to the subject!

Article by Alan Brinkworth & Maurice Smith - UK Amateurs

Note: Methods shown in this article are unsuitable for unsupervised children!

Amateur Microscopy as a hobby, interest, and amateur science pursuit has probably been going on for well over 150 years. Many of the advances made over this time have come about because of the unceasing experimentation and innovation of the enthusiasts keeping the subject alive. One of the main aspects of looking at our world through the microscope lies in the preparation of material for study. After all, without specimen slides, what would we look at with our optical instruments?

Traditionally, only a few substances have proven suitable for 'mounting' specimens: Canada Balsam (a time-honoured natural resin), Glycerin (good for starting out), Numount (as a modern substitute for Balsam and available from Brunel Microscopes and Northern Biological Supplies - follow 'Shop' links), and Fructose (recently re-introduced and advocated by us as an easy non-toxic way of mounting a wide range of subject material).

Each mountant has its own inherent set of advantages and disadvantages. Canada Balsam, for example, has a long drying time before the slide is stable and fixed; although over the years, it has proven to be one of the most stable substances for keeping the mounted material in a good condition. In recent times, the supply of specimen-mounting material has become more difficult, with only a few small businesses making these products available to amateurs. In some countries, the use of solvents and chemicals used for practising microscopy in a hands-on sense, has become subjected to stricter control in a new wave of worry about chemical hazards... making acquisition almost impossible.

As one of the people active at Microscopy-UK in advocating Amateur Microscopy for all, I was delighted to receive a letter along with some slides from my good friend and fellow amateur, Alan Brinkworth, which spoke of a novel new way of mounting material for microscopical study. Like many new ideas, it is often difficult to track down the first person who tried experimenting with new techniques and materials, but in the world of Amateur Microscopy, everyone is prepared to share anything new with others. Anyway, here is is the letter - which Alan has allowed me to publish along with his work. If you decide to try what Alan and other amateurs have done, why not drop us a line and let us know how you get on.

Great stuff, Alan. Well done. We thought it would be a good idea to put Alan's home-made slides under the old scope here at Microscopy-UK so all our readers can see the very good results. Here are the two slides just as Alan posted them to us. I know our picture of them isn't very good but you can see he has used round cover slides and has labelled them with a pen for simplicity. It is a good idea to label or mark any slide with its content straight away.

Whiskers This first image of the 'Whiskers' slide was taken at 25x magnification using crossed polar filters. You can see hair shafts in both vertical and transverse sections.

Pollen Here you can see a couple of the stained Tulip Pollen. This image was taken at 100x with normal illumination. Pollen is an interesting area to study!

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Terms & Glossary

Isopropanol: A colourless alcohol, miscible with water. Inflammable. Can be purchased from some chemists.

Safranin: An azine dyestuff. Also spelt as safranine. An artificial dye-stuff derived from coal-tar. *Not to be confused with saffron* which is a dye derived from a plant of the iris flower family, and used as a flavouring and a dye for food-stuffs and cooking!

Halogen lamp: Normally low voltage (12v) lights which emit a very bright blue-white light. Common in homes. Emissions also contain Ultra-violet light. Lamps used in close proximity to people should be fitted with a safety glass to reduce or filter out UV.

Vertical and Transverse Sections: terms used to describe the way a specimen is cut into thin slices: 'vertical' means along a specimen's length, 'transverse' means across its breadth - a cross-section! For a plant stem or cylinder, a VS (vertical section) would result in a rectangular shaped piece, and a TS (transverse section) would result in a disc shaped piece.

Comments please, to the author Maurice Smith

Dr Marvin K. Cook kindly informed us of another mountant:

"Damar varnish is a good medium for mounting specimens.
A word about Damar varnish and its preparation. Singapore Damar is supposed to be the best. If you need help, I can provide directions as solubilization is rather slow. Restorers prefer Damar varnished paintings as it is far easier to remove than acrylics. Damar in any case is superior to Canada balsam as it maintains clarity over the years. Canada balsam does yellow in varying degrees and never completely dries."

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