Is Microscopy Dead? by mol smith July 2013                 {PAGE 1}
(For Image Credits see Last Page.)

With so many youngsters being given iPads, Wiis, Xboxes, iPhones, Game Boys, Nintendos, and other fantastic gadgets, is it likely that microscopy as a learning and recreational past-time for future generations is doomed? Maybe! It depends on people already enjoying what microscopy study brings to them to present the subject in more varied and interesting ways to the new generations. If you were born in the forties or fifties, you barely had the start of TV. It was far easier for us to become engaged in chemistry sets, crystal radios, valves, circuit boards astronomy, and microscopy - just to name a few fascinating areas where we could 'play' and learn at the same time. Today, hardly any schools (in the UK) have microscopes.


Horse-fly Head

And whereas a young person quickly learns the intricacies of computer based devices, he or she soon gives up if presented with a microscope without guidance and encouragement. Films like Jurassic Park have worked well from a fictional perspective to explode youth interest in what are just really dusty stone fossils sitting in museum halls around the world. But imaginations are sparked, cross-over interest emerges, and the youth benefit. Alas, Mr. Spielberg with all his mighty talent, has missed the most evocative alien world of all: namely that one inside a garden pond, or on any kitchen surface. Had any imaginative film maker or story-teller tapped into the extraordinary creations just outside of un-aided sight, I am certain microscopes would be finding their way into millions of homes, and microscopy subjects would be appearing in computer games and on tee-shirts faster than a flagellate could 'flick' its flagella.

Are we the last? Are we, the older, the people who started life before computers for the masses, solid state electronics, moon walks, memory sticks, and social impoliteness as the norm; are we - the slowly late-life ageing few - the last small-world observers and custodians of microscopy walking the planet. Are we the final legacy of a great Victorian era? If so, then you and I are like brothers and sisters. We are the ones who kept alive (still keep alive) an extraordinary facet of human endeavour which can be practiced by anyone relatively cheaply and completely engaging without the need of electronic whiz-bangs or expensive travel.

I, for one, would love to see future generations discover the singular pleasure of fetching some water from a garden pond, putting it under a microscope and marvelling at the way life penetrates tiny space and the way it creates worlds within worlds. At its most basic level microscopy may not teach one a lot of science to use in life but it can certainly make you wonder more about our own limited existence.

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