The Microscope.com Blog

Affordable Microscopes for Everyday Use


December 06, 2013

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

To our great delight, our new Microscope.com website design has won a coveted Outstanding Achievement Award from the Interactive Media Awards (IMA). The award is for excellence in the design, development and implementation of the new design skin, which was executed by Intedyne. The principal, Dmitriy Yermolayev is unquestionably one of the finest back-end coders in the US and he was ably assisted by Nasa Ikeda’s refreshingly elegant and effective front-end design.

The honor, granted by the IMA, recognizes that the project met and surpassed the standards of excellence that comprise the web’s most professional work. The judging consisted of various criteria, including design, usability, innovation in technical features, standards compliance and content. In order to win this award level, the site had to meet strict guidelines in each area – an achievement only a fraction of sites in the IMA competition earn each year.

To comprehend the extent of our pleasure, you have to consider that we have spent the best part of three years redesigning the website. Two initial aborted attempts involved so much time, expense and stress that we have some sympathy with the current healthcare website debacle! It is hard, more than hard, to convert to a new system with sophisticated requirements and it is primarily due to Dmitriy’s intellect, experience and steady personality that has enabled us to persevere through through the fog of dismay to this final, successful iteration.

Most important, while we love the look and feel of the site, it is easy to navigate and perfomring above expectations. Kudos to Dmitriy and Nasa.

To view the online award(s) for this site, please visit: http://www.interactivemediaawards.com/winners/certificate.asp?param=283905&cat=1

November 20, 2013

TOP 3 HOLIDAY GIFT IDEAS

Every year, I take an oath with myself that this year, we will take a more frugal and intelligent approach to gifts for our three children. Rather than the plethora of toys and gadgets that create great excitement for all of about 10 minutes – or in the case of one son – until he moves on to open the next gift, we will purchase a gift that fulfills five key criteria:

1. It engages the brain beyond zapping aliens on a screen.

2. It is good fun and easy to use.

3. It will engage the entire family across generations

4. It is well-made and will last a long time.

5. It is affordable.

Unsurprisingly, several of our microscopes meet these criteria! This year, my 3 top Microscopy Gifts are as follows

1. Explorer Handheld Digital Microscopes

Brand new, they are high on WOW! factor for both kids and adults. Included software is easy-to-us even for tech dunces and with instant live images, we have found that they draw in the whole family very quickly….not to mention the fact that Dad will likely commandeer it! Prices start at $119 which is absurdly cheap for a good quality, reliable digital microscope.

2. Omano OM118 Series Compound Microscopes

These high power, compound microscopes are great starter microscopes and unlike many cheaper models, they are full-size. Suitable for Grades 3-12 and beyond. Prices start at $109.

3. Exo-Labs Focus Microscope Camera for iPad

This is a more expensive gift at $495 but it is SO cool. It’s the only digital microscope camera that includes Apple technology and works seamlessly with both iPhones and iPads.

Beyond that we have a wide array of microscopes and accessory kits for the Holidays not to mention a huge array of accessories that make great stocking stuffers.

November 18, 2013

Spot a virus with your cell phone

At Microscope.com, we often tell people that the design of light microscopes has not changed much since their invention in the 15th century. Our point is that unlike so much in the technology sphere, the basic modus operandus of microscopes has stayed pretty much the same.  There have been innovations in lenses and refinements to various mechanical parts, but it took an electron microscope to truly innovate and extend the abilityies of a microscope.

Now researchers at UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, have created a portable smartphone attachment that can be used to detect a single virus. This is pretty extraordinary given that up until now, virus identification lay in the realms of electron microscopes, which to say the least, are somewhat bigger! This new microscope weighs in at less than half a pound!

Professor Aydogan Ozcan and his team published their research in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Nano in September and in which they detailed a fluorescent microscope device fabricated by a 3-D printer. The ‘microscope’ contains a color filter, an external lens and a laser diode. The laser diode is set at a steep angle of approximately 75 degree, the idea being that oblique illumination avoids detection of scattered light and, therefore, interference with the fluorescent image.

When attached to a smartphone, the team were able to detect a single human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) particle, which is a common virus in birth defects such as brain damage and deafness and which can hasten the death of patients compromised immune systems, such HIV patients.

To put this innovation into perspective, consider the fact that  human hair is about 100,000 nanometers thick. A single HCMV particle measures just 15-300 nanometers. Once commercially developed, this new microscope could prove extremely helpful in identifying viruses in remote field locations where larger microscopes are either unavailable for overly cumbersome. Imagine detecting a given virus in the wilds of sub-Saharan Africa with your cell phone. Very cool!

It lends new meaning to the world is getting smaller!

November 12, 2013

MICROSCOPE INFOGRAPHIC

Today marks a first for Microscope.com….the publication of our first microscope infographic. The designer has included a variety of fun microscope facts, a few relevant literary quotes and a visual timeline of the evolution of microscopy. We are delighted as it does exactly what we had hoped it would do in adding an element of visual freshness and color to what is otherwise a somewhat dry topic. We are hoping that it will be a colorful addition to any science site or museum that wishes to carry it on their website while also forming a cheerful addition to our own website.

Our next step is to figure out the best way to print it so that schools can add it to their classroom walls.

You can view the whole infographic on our website. Please do let us know what you think and share it with your friends and colleagues.

 

November 05, 2013

Take a Leaf….

Clearing Fall leaves is a thankless task so reward yourself by selecting a few of the more colorful leaves to view under a microscope.

Within seconds you will see what could be satellite images of Earth, the leathery skin of an exotic lizard or is that a giant maw, close up and in full color? The colors look glorious on the trees, but under the microscope the full detail is revealed.

The technique is simple. You simply place a leaf under a stereo microscope or, as with these images, under our new Explorer Series of handheld digital microscopes. We have packaged the Explorers with a range of engaging accessories  for the Holidays, all at reduced prices.

It’s a great way to engage your kids during a blustery afternoon. Our family has an annual tradition of catching falling leaves. It can get quite competitive – first to catch ten – but it’s good fun and great exercise.

It also leads in easily to us all gathered round the microscope to check out the various leaves we have collected. It’s such a relief to hear cries of “Wow, that’s so cool” from other than an X-Box game!

The Seasons offer a wealth of such specimens to view under a microscope……next up, at least in the North East,….examining snowflakes!

 

October 24, 2013

…Of Knights & Parasites

I can’t resist sharing this gem from my alma mater.

In a study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Paleopathology, Doctors Piers D. Mitchell and Evilena Anastasiou of the Archaeology & Anthropology department at the University of Cambridge discovered and analyzed preserved feces in the Frankish castle of Saranda Kolones on the island of Cyprus.

Built in 1191, the castle was occupied by the crusading armies of King Richard I for 30 years before being destroyed by an earthquake. The researchers took samples from the castle latrine, suspended them in water to make a solution, and then passed the solution through small strainers. In analyzing the samples of feces under a compound microscope, they found both roundworm and whipworm eggs. Both parasites occur due to unhygienic conditions such as poor bathroom hygiene or eating unwashed vegetables. Ununtreated, roundworm in particular can lead to severe fever and death.

The Crusaders are known to died in droves on their way to the Holy Land and this study indicates that in addition to malnutrition, poor hygiene and parasitic infections such as these must have accounted for a significant proportion of these deaths en route. In fact, 15 to 20 percent of crusaders died of either malnutrition or infectious disease while on expedition.

“Once hatched in the human intestines, the immature roundworms undergo an incredible migration, with the first stage larvae penetrating the blood vessels and appearing as second stage larvae in the liver within six hours after the initial infection,” the study authors wrote. “In the liver, the larvae develop into their third stage and they then migrate to the heart and lungs. Eight to 10 days after the original infection, the larvae burrow their way from the heart and lungs back to the small intestine, where they reach maturity. The mature female then starts to lay about 200,000 eggs per day.”

That seems like a crusade in itself!

 

October 22, 2013

Playing Chicken with your Kids’ Health

My kids love chicken nuggets. In spite of the deep fried coating, I also like them as the kids are eating something healthy….right? Wrong! At least according to Dr deShazo, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

He recently asked his pathology colleague, Dr Steven Bigler, to perform an ‘autopsy’ on two nuggets purchased from two different “national fast-food chains near the academic health center in Jackson, Mississippi.”  According to Atlantic Magazine, there are four McDonalds within two miles of the center and one inside the hospital although the study does not state from which fast-food chains the nuggets were purchased!

McDonald’s website states “The only meat used in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets is chicken breast meat.”

Of course, if over half your product is not made of meat, this statement could still be true.

“I was floored. I was astounded” said deShazo of his reaction to examining the nuggets under  a microscope.  This is what he saw.

Pathology of a Chicken Nugget - University of MIssissippi

The first nugget (excluding the breading), was approximately 50% muscle with the other half largely composed of fat, blood vessels and nerve mixed with “generous quantities of epithelium (skin of visceral organs) and associated supportive tissue”. In summary, 56% fat, 25% carbohydrates and a paltry 19% protein.

The nugget from the second restaurant was 40% skeletal muscle in addition to “generous quantities of fat and other tissue, including connective tissue and bone”. 58% fat, 24% carbohydrates and 18% protein.

“We’ve taken a healthy product – lean, white meat – and processed it, goo-ed it up with fat, sugar and salt” deShazo said. “Kids love that combination”. Their conclusion is dire: “Chicken nuggets are mostly fat and their name is a misnomer, because the predominant components aren’t chicken”. Meaning not chicken in the normal sense of chicken meat as opposed to fat and skin.

When chicken is processed, there’s some chicken left on the bone,” deShazo  explained. “You can actually vibrate that stuff off, and you get these chicken leftovers, and you can put it together, mix it up with other substances, and come out with a goo that you can fry and call a chicken nugget. It’s a combination of chicken, carbohydrates, and fats, and other substances that make it glue together. It’s almost like super glue that we’re eating in some fast-food restaurants.”

As deShazo noted, not all chicken nuggets are as bad. KFC and Chick-fil-A, for example, both claim that their chicken nuggets are entirely made of chicken breast meat while the National Chicken Council, which has been quick to play down deShazo’s conclusions. Dr Ashley Peterson, the NCC’s VP of SCience & Technology told Reuters “This study evaluates only two chicken nugget samples out of billions of chicken nuggets that are made every year”. Frankly, that is what concerns me. Let’s assume that one of the nuggets was purchased from McDonald’s. If that were the case, it is not  a huge leap to conclude that the millions, if not billions, of chicken nuggets sold by them are equally unnutritious and worse, are yet another contributing factor to the epidemic of child obesity in the US?

The NCC pointed out that all products must include nutrition information on labels, but to what extent does this really help? How many people know what level of protein or fat is acceptable in a chicken nugget? And I’ll guarantee that that the label does not state: “40% crushed chicken bones, 50% mashed muscle and 10% stomach lining!

As if that were not bad enough, the folks managing companies such as McDonald’s will defend their product to the last dime, but I wonder what they feed their children at home? I suspect not stomach lining and skeletal bones.

Time to end this game of chicken with our kids……. Let them eat healthily.

October 22, 2013

NEW WEBSITE SKIN

Welcome to our new website design skin, launched over the weekend. The re-design is entirely cosmetic with a more modern look and cleaner elements to make it easier for you to navigate. For example, the drop-down category menu is much easier to use with sub-menus that give you clear choices related to your specific application.

Since microscopes are increasingly modular we have tried to present a single model with its variations on one product page. For example, an Omano OM2300S-V7 boom stereo microscope  includes the option to select a binocular or trinocular microscope head, a camera and various key accessories such as a barlow lens. Your options are clearly laid out for swift and efficient selection. Some of our competitors list each variation as a separate microscope which creates dozens of product pages, all of which include the same underlying microscope but with minor variations due to the addition of a barlow lens or different eyepiece. We find this confusing and often verging on false advertising.

Our Education Center has also been updated and we encourage you to browse the information and articles. We shall shortly be adding some interesting experiments for the microscope and we encourage you all to submit your own favorite microscopy experiment.

Finally, please……send us your feedback. What do you like about the new website? What do you think we should change or improve? We welcome all constructive criticism…after all, this is your site!

 

 

August 28, 2013

CICADA KILLER WASPS

 

Microscopic view of cicada killer head

Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp

Danny brought in this beauty, last week and we took the opportunity to snap a few images under various microscopes.  It looks intimidating, but is harmless in spite of the females having a large stinger. It is an Eastern Cicada Killer wasp, which exists to cull some of the annual cicada population. The female uses her stinger to paralyze a cicada prior to flying it back to her nest which is an amazing sight since the cicada is typically significantly larger than the wasp itself. As a result, she hauls it up a tree and then launches herself off towards her burrow, often repeating this laborious process several times in order to get there. Each male egg gets one cicada and each female at least two cicadas. Unsurprisingly, the female wasps are larger than the males.

Cicada Killer Burrow

You can always identify cicada killer wasps not only due to their size (up to two inches), but due to their burrows which always have a mound of earth outside along with a characteristic trench running through it to the hole. And there will be lots of them, too…….thousands at our last house!

Leg Spines

As you can see, up close under a microscope, they are beautiful. The spines on their legs serve to help the females dig their burrows. They use their powerful jaws to loosen the soil and then excavate the soil using their legs. Hence the mound outside although they also use excavated earth to seal their egg chambers.

We used a Dino-Lite AM4113T to view this one as well as one of our new Explorer Pro digital microscopes that we will be launching soon.

August 27, 2013

TICKS

Engorged nymph deer ticks

Insects seem to be a perennial favorite of my blogs including ticks so how could I resist posting on these disgusting examples?! Rhonda is responsible for bringing these guys to work, but in case you are wondering…… she picked them off her dog and put them in a Zip Lock bag. We could see dozens of them inside the bag and when examined under a digital microscope, we could see them  all crawling around.

You can see quite clearly how engorged the two ticks on the right have become after a good feeding on dog’s blood. The other one, below has not yet started its blood meal so it has yet to engorge itself.

Nymph deer tick - unengorged

Ticks have only one blood meal each year, but they take their time when they do or, at least, the females do. These are nymph ticks. In their nymph state both males and females have a good blood meal. Next year, only the females have a really big blood meal. Most of the adult males eat sparingly, which is why it is important to know the difference between male and female ticks. Female ticks spend more time eating and so have more time to transmit the bacterium.  Females typically have reddish orange coloring. Males have minimal if any coloring beyond black. However, I don’t think we will be adding this lot to our collection of insects in the office. Black widow spiders and rhino beetles are worth keeping, but ticks….I think not! The ticks were viewed under our new Explorer Digital Microscopes which we will launch soon.

July 11, 2013

Birth of the Electron Microscope Part 2: The Solution

By the 1930s, scientists had pushed optical microscopy to its limit, and had found that there were certain things that they just couldn’t resolve with traditional magnification; at some point, the visible light waves were just too big to accurately reflect off of a tiny sample. This raised a problem: how could you magnify an object without using light? As discussed in our last blog post, Birth of the Electron Microscope Part 1: The Problem, the foundations were already laid for a new method of magnification.

Scientists had experimented with the notion of using ultraviolet microscopes, but UV wavelengths still weren’t small enough. However, attention soon turned to “cathode rays,” or streams of electrons; when they were accelerated in a vacuum, travelling at a wavelength that was much smaller than visible light. Furthermore, it was possible to direct electrons using magnetic fields, similar to how traditional lenses directed light. In 1931, German scientists Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska built the first Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) prototype. While their first attempt was unable to exceed the magnification limits of light microscopy, they soon refined the equipment and succeeded in obtaining images at the sub-micrometer level, revealing incredible details about the structure of cells, molecules, metals, and crystals.

Whereas optical microscopes could only resolve to a few hundred nanometers (a billionth of a meter), a transmission electron microscope can resolve images at the picometer level – that’s equal to one trillionth of a meter, and is the unit that measures the diameter of large molecules and atoms. A TEM consists of several components. It begins with a vacuum system which will allow the electrons to travel in a wave, as well as an electron emission source – typically a spike-shaped tungsten filament, or a crystal of lanthanum hexaboride, both of which are large molecules with a lot of electrons floating around the nuclei. The electron “gun” is connected to a high-voltage source, which will cause it to emit electrons into the vacuum. The beam of electrons is manipulated by a series of electromagnets, including a “lens” that is designed to act similarly to those on an optical microscope. When the electrons are focused on the specimen and hit the slide, they will scatter in the same way that light particles do, and therefore convey information about the structure of the specimen. This “image” can be viewed by exposing the electron beam to a photographic plate or a specialized camera that can display the result on a computer.

The specimen in a TEM is very different from a slide on an optical microscope, and presents one of the biggest limitations of the TEM. In order to properly resolve, the sample has to be thin enough for electrons to pass through it, typically about 100 nanometers wide. Any biological specimens must be infused with chemicals and embedded in resin before being sliced so thinly, and it’s impossible to view anything in motion or examine a single specimen as it changes from one day to the next. TEM is also subject to diffraction, similar to optical microscopes, which makes it difficult to see certain details.

While it was a good start, there was still some refinements to be made to the ultra-small world of electron microscopy – and so much more to learn about the tiniest building blocks of life.

July 11, 2013

FOCUS MICROSCOPE CAMERA FOR iPAD

At last! We are ready to start selling ExoLabs terrific new microscope camera for iPads. More accurately, the camera is up on our website and we are taking pre-orders for shipment at the end of July.

Given the Focus Camera works so well with the iPad we anticipate heavy demand from schools because it is so easy to use. Really, it’s a joy and we urge you to spread the word. I confess. It’s also plain refreshing to have a product designed and assembled in the US! You can see the difference in quality between the average Asian microscope camera and the Focus Camera. The Focus looks good, feels good and …….most important, works good! It is one of those rare products where form and function meet to create a satisfying product. How often can you say that?

We also like the fact that it can be used as a stand-alone macro lens camera. With the addition of an optional variable lens, you can point it at the specimen – an insect, dollar bill or whatever you want the class to look at and no need for the microscope…..although we’d prefer it if you bought a microscope as well!

Take a look at it here http://www.microscope.com/exo-labs-focus-microscope-camera-for-ipad.html and please pass it on to your colleagues and friends.

 

 

June 27, 2013

FOCUS ON iPAD

Keep your eyes out for the new Exo Labs Focus microscope camera designed exclusively for iPads in a classroom setting. Microscope.com will launch it exclusively on the internet, shortly and it is a beauty!

It is the only microscope camera that includes licensed Apple technology, which accounts for its seamless operation on the iPad. Teachers – and their students – will love it! The user interface is wonderful – clean, simple and engaging – the latter of which we think is most important of all.  Kids will be drawn in to to use it and the highly intuitive menu will lead them not only to image capture, but to more advanced measuring and annotations in a heartbeat. Did I mention that it is truly plug-and-play? So many cheap microscope cameras claim to be plug-and -play, but the Focus really lives up to that claim. Instant live imaging!

For shared class work, it is easy to project on to a flat screen or you can also plug it into a projector. A couple of included adapters also turn it into its own camera irrespective of the microscope.

In short, we are delighted to be the exclusive representative of the Focus among microscope internet retailers and we will shortly be taking pre-orders……so stay Focused :)

 

May 06, 2013

IBM and Atom Films: Modern Microscopy in Action

IBM and Atom Films: Modern Microscopy in Action

In early May 2013, worldwide news outlets reported on a brand new short film on Youtube that had “gone viral” in terms of popularity. But this wasn’t a skateboarding dog or a grumpy cat; the one-and-a-half minute video, “A Boy and His Atom,” was touted as the smallest movie ever made. IBM researchers created the stop-motion film by manipulating individual atoms into place using a scanning tunneling microscope. Guinness World Records officially verified that it was the world’s smallest stop-motion film. It’s a vibrant and exciting example of the work that’s currently being done using applied microscopy.

“A Boy and his Atom” was a side project in the IBM laboratories; the main goal was to experiment with atomic-level magnetism for digital memory storage. Since the development of the first hard drive in the 1950s, processor technology has sped up at an exponential rate, but over that timeline all digital hard drives have worked in essentially the same way: they break information down into a stream of bits – a binary unit that can only show either one or zero – and program that long binary code into the microprocessors. The coding is usually done using electromagnetic currents running to a series of tiny “switches”, each of which will either flip to one or stay at zero.

Today’s modern microprocessors use approximately 1 million atoms to store one single bit of information; that’s every one or zero. While it seems like a lot of atoms, they can still fit quite easily into a 32 Gigabyte smartphone – that’s 200 trillion bits! However, IBM has been working to reduce the size of the bit even more. Through scanning tunneling microscopy, the research team recently discovered that they could store one bit of information in just 12 atoms of carbon monoxide magnetically arranged on a small copper plate. Atomic-scale magnetic memory means that we may someday be able to store unbelievable amounts of data into a very small hard disk.

“A Boy and his Atom” was a demonstration of IBM’s ability to control and move single atoms into recognizable shapes. They do this by using an incredibly powerful microscope, which magnifies the atoms about 100 million times. It’s far beyond the resolving capability of light microscopes, or even electron-based beams. The scanning tunneling microscope, or STM, was originally developed in 1986, and it relies on a phenomenon called quantum tunneling, in which atoms hover above the surface of a solid object in a “cloud”. When another surface comes close to the original one, their clouds overlap and can affect the positioning of the atoms. The STM’s tip is refined down to one single atom; it gets so close to the target atom that they chemically interact in a predictable way, allowing the STM to drag the atom across a surface. According to the scientists, the atoms actually make a distinct sound when being moved, which resembles a record scratch! The researchers used carbon monoxide atoms arranged on a copper 111 plate, which provided the best magnetic bonding. The scanning surface is cooled to about -230 Kelvin, so the atoms are not vibrating at a high speed. For the film, they built each frame out of atoms and took a photograph of the result, just like in traditional stop-motion animation.

“A Boy and His Atom” is a fascinating example of real microscopy and real results. The ability to move individual atoms around is an incredible leap forward for science, and the new 8-atom bit shows the potential that can result from this power, all done with a very powerful microscope and some innovative imagination.

May 03, 2013

On The Wings Of A Butterfly

With the ushering in of sun and warmth of Spring (in most of the country at least) comes the timeless ritual every child enjoys – the chasing and catching of butterflies, fireflies and moths. And what parent can forget the beaming smile of a son or daughter letting them peek between clasped fingers to glimpse a pair of colorful wings?

Wings which, unfortunately, are so delicate they tend to loose a bit of their shimmering, pixie-dust-like coating on anything they touch, including little fingers.

This coating, which feels like fine powder, is actually composed of very tiny scales. These scales in turn, are delicate hair fibers, shaped by Mother Nature to serve a very special purpose. Interestingly enough, moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera, which actually means “scale wing”. The scales are pigmented and their complex design is unique to each species, offering a quick way to identify their owner.

Photo Credit US Dept of Ag.

These tiny scales also contribute to the pattern on the wings by diffracting light through a complex microscopic structure of ribs and holes, as you can see. This particular image comes to us courtesy of “Anavitrinella Pampinaria”, or the Common Gray moth, captured with an Optixcam OCS1.3 digital microscope camera at 400X magnification.
When these scales are viewed under a microscope they actually look like – feathers! This shouldn’t be too surprising, since they serve many of the same functions as feathers, adding structure and protection to delicate wing membranes. If the scales do assist flight, the effect is subtle. Butterflies and moths don’t actually need the scales to fly, but their wings are very fragile and if you handle them enough to rub the scales off, you’ll probably also damage the wing skins in the process.

Grey Moth Wing Scale at 400X

The scales on moth and butterfly wings help defend and camouflage them from predatory bats because their uneven shape prevents the bats “sonar” from seeing them clearly. These fuzzy scales also cover the butterfly’s entire body, forming a very stealthy coating. Instead of a clearly-defined meal, the bat only sees a very fuzzy outline on its sonar scope.

So the next time your child bounds after a butterfly, tell them about the pixie-dust and add some magic to their chase.