by Charles Suslavage, Corona, California
Christmas 2006 was on its way and my wife asked what I would like. She always buys me a nice gift. I replied a “microscope would be fun”. She looked puzzled and asked “what would you do with that?” My immediate reply was “it’s a toy something to play with”. What I was actually considering was to follow the advice of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. You need to train the mind and keep it sharp by exercising it. I desired an activity to keep my little gray cells active and healthy. The gray cells being those making up the brain. You see I am very close to being 60 years of age. Probably too far down life’s path to make any great scientific discovery but not so far along that I cannot discover the wonders of the micro world. I have always enjoyed hiking, visiting zoos, and photographing nature with a particular interest in macro photography. A microscope seemed a natural extension of these activities.
Come Christmas Eve, that’s when my wife and I exchange our gifts, I received a microscope as requested. The microscope was the “My First Lab Microscope” and as I would later discover this microscope is recommended for youths from kindergarten through eighth grade. Being a big kid at heart I am amused but not disappointed. Five prepared slides came with the Lab and I was fascinated. Way back in the dark distant past more than 47 years back is when I last looked through a microscope at a biological subject. My main occupation since then has been the flow of electrons through wires and silicon. What I remember most from that early experience was the view of a fruit fly and what impressed me was the transparency of the body and all the hair on this insect's body and limbs. I apologize to one and all, not being a trained naturalist, entomologist, or biologist, the best description I can muster at this time or then is body and limbs.
My wife did extract one promise from me that I would not do anything to damage the house, burn it down or blow it up. I’m not sure what my wife’s concern was but I did promise. Now I have viewed the five prepared slides at great length and in fine detail starting at 40x then 100x and finally 400x. What to do next keeping in mind my promise to my wife. Enter the Internet a great place for information and knowledge if you're careful.
In no time at all I collected enough material to put together a sixty-eight page document for personal use, I entitled this “Microscope Projects”. I now have a collection of lab exercises not involving explosives but I do note the use of fire to fix bacteria. I believe these collected projects will keep me busy for many months, perhaps longer. Today I am as all novice users of the microscope must be, a generalist, not having enough experience to find an area of specialty. Project examples are the introductory mouth smear, insect wing collecting, pollen studies, and pond life studies to mention just a few. These sixty-eight pages are guaranteed to enlighten and stimulate my little gray cells. My wife likes flowers so collecting pollen is one activity she will approve of and appreciate. I sacrificed a dandelion and found some pollen. Looking at the pollen I wondered how do I collect this microscopic material and mount it for later study or reference, it’s so small? Maybe I should begin my pollen studies with collecting samples and sketching what I observe making slides can wait. I wonder if there is such a thing as a pollen comb?
Insect wing collecting seems to me to be something of interest, remembering my youthful observations of the fruit fly. In my research I found that no special chemicals or complicated preparation is required other than cleaning the wing of oils and dirt. Coupling this with the use of clear nail polish as a mounting medium should be fun. Off I went to find said insect. This is a change, usually the goal is to eliminate insects and now I find I have a need to attract these, in my wife’s view, pests. I was surprised at the lack of flying critters around the yard then I remembered it is winter and lately it has been unusually cold. Wait for spring. Later when again viewing a prepared permanent slide of mosquito mouth parts I found myself wondering what my lovely wife will think of my bringing a collection of dead insects into the house. Oh well, that thought can also wait for spring.
Not having the knowledge to collect pollen for making a permanent slide at this time and a shortage of flying insects I have busied myself with simple household objects while I wait for spring. I have grown salt crystals and created my first permanent slide using clear nail polish, actually the label says nude, complete with trapped air bubbles. The air bubbles were a delight this time. “I know what these are, they are air bubbles!” I was shamelessly excited about something that I know I will grow to despise. Growing crystals from baking soda was puzzling at first, not all subjects should be illuminated from below. I would not be surprised to learn that eighth grade students already know this. The baking soda when first viewed was black featureless forms. They looked like crystals jutting out in a variety of directions but weren’t, just black blobs. After iodized salt, sea salt and borax which make interesting clear crystals this was a surprise. Then metaphorically the light went on. Switching off the bottom illumination and behold brilliant white growths resembling incomplete snowflakes.
I have found viewing through the microscope interesting, exciting, and as I learn, more challenging. My little gray cells are enjoying themselves. The microscope is also a de-stressing tool. No schedule to keep, no concern for weather or time. Personally I enjoy it most in the quiet of the late evening. The microscope brings to me something I believe to be lost. Something I’ve heard referred to as Quiet Contemplation.
This eight-grade scope is just fine. My little gray cells are delighted with the visual and intellectual stimulation. I am enjoying the experience and it is very hard to describe the thrill of discovering the micro world. Armed with scope, glass slides, cover slips, clear nail polish, and 68 pages of projects micro world be warned, a new novice has come.
All comments to the author Charles Suslavage are welcomed.
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