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Affordable Microscopes for Everyday Use

March 17, 2014


My daughter left for school this morning like thousands of children across the country – dressed from head to toe in green and after eating a breakfast of green pancakes and green milk. St Patrick’s Day is upon us, but this year the Irish are celebrating with a little more fervor than ever and for good reason. Scientists at the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum have proven beyond doubt that Ireland’s most iconic tourist attraction, The Blarney Stone, famous for giving you the ‘Gift of the Gab’ if you kiss it, is definitively……. Irish!

For centuries, in pubs all over Ireland, debate has raged over the stone’s origins. One camp holds the stone was chiseled from Stonehenge. Another that Robert the Bruce sent it as a gift after his stunning victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The debate was ended recently with the discovery of a nineteenth century microscope slide containing a microscopic sliver of the stone so small that it is transparent. Under a microscope, the slide revealed the rock to be a limestone composed of the mineral calcite and containing recrystallized fragments of fossil brachiopod shells and bryozoans…..all of which are unique to Cork where the stone is located.

Dr John Faithfull, curator at the Hunterian museum, said: “This strongly supports views that the stone is made of local carboniferous limestone, about 330m years old, and indicates that it has nothing to do with the Stonehenge bluestones, or the sandstone of the current ‘Stone of Destiny’, now in Edinburgh Castle.”

Alongside the science of the microscope was a touch of the leprechaun. As part of a digitization program, Becky Smith, an intern at the museum, spotted the slide among 40,000 older geological slides contained in handwritten ledgers. . The slide is part of the rock and mineral thin-section collection put together by Professor Matthew Forster Heddle, of St Andrews, one of the giants of 19th-century geology in the UK.

Faithfull said: “It was probably made between 1850 and 1880, during the period when new microscope techniques began to revolutionize our understanding of rocks, and how they form. “He was a pioneer in the use of these techniques to investigate the rocks and minerals of Scotland, and elsewhere. He also seems to have managed to obtain fragments of a number of important historical stones: the collection also includes slides cut from several of the stones at Stonehenge. This was not vandalism – it was bringing the latest scientific tools to bear on the origins of these monuments. We don’t know how Prof Heddle got the Blarney microscope slide, or whether he had it made himself, but he was a major scientific figure, with excellent contacts, and was always keen to acquire interesting samples for scientific investigation. However, in this case, he doesn’t seem to have published anything about the stone.”

There is a long tradition of hanging upside down from the battlements of Blarney Castle, which is the only way to access the stone,  in order to kiss it so using a hammer to extract a sample required some dexterity.

Faithfull added: “Very few pieces of the Blarney Stone seem to exist outside Blarney Castle. Apart from our microscope slide, the only other one I’m aware of is in a monument at the University of Texas. However, this object seems to have its origins in a beer-fuelled party, and the genuineness of the fragment must be in doubt.

The Blarney Stone is famous for bestowing the gift of eloquence on those who kiss it. We don’t know if kissing the microscope slide would have the same effect, although I have tried it.”

Honestly….this is not just Blarney….it’s true!

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

March 06, 2014

6th Consecutive Year!

Holy Moly! We are thrilled and delighted to have once again been awarded ToptenREVIEWS’ GOLD AWARD for BEST ONLINE MICROSCOPE RETAILER…..for the 6th consecutive year! But this year, we have the added distinction of being awarded the coveted award for EXCELLENCE. Coming on top of a strong 2013, we are a bit feeling a bit giddy…but don’t worry, we are keeping our eye on the ball or more accurately, on the ocular!

It is always hard to explain, but our team of employees are more than dedicated to customer service. It is simply a part of everyone’s nature. A desire to please the customer with good value microscopes and a really great experience. We receive regular emails to this effect, all of which are posted under Customer Testimonials but it is always nice to have a formal endorsement such as in the words of the review:

“Out of all the microscope stores we reviewed, we were most impressed with the customer service and selection offered by this site and it’s our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award winner.

The customer service is absolutely the best and the inventory, support, shipping options, educational discounts and related information available on the site makes it a clear winner among the best-of-the-best online microscope stores.”

At, Customer Service is not just idle talk. It starts with an easy-to-navigate and engaging website, friendly telephone service for both pre and post sales inquiries, really good value microscopes at competitive prices, secure payment systems, easy returns….the list goes on. Suffice to say, however, that on those rare occasions when something is wrong with the product…..that is when we tend to win our lifelong customers!

As always, all the above is meaningless without a fantastic group of people in the office and warehouse and as always, I am extremely grateful for all their hard work on your behalf. It’s a heck of a team!


March 05, 2014


At we often say that the technology of light microscopes has not changed much over the past 500 years. Strictly speaking, this is no longer true. Scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan have found a way to use ordinary light to detect objects smaller than the limit of traditional light microscopes. Up until now, light microscopes have been limited by the Rayleigh diffraction limit, which states that light cannot be used to resolve a structure smaller than its own wavelength. Since the shortest wavelength of visible light is a few hundred nanometers, scientists have turned to X-Rays and electron microscopes in order to resolve smaller elements.

However, for some time scientists have suspected that a weird effect of quantum mechanics known as entanglement might overcome the Rayleigh limit and the Hokkaido team have done just that. Einstein referred to Entanglement as “spooky action at a distance”. It involves two photons in opposite polarization states that become entangled so that even when separated by infinitely large distances (think light years), changes to one are reflected in the other. Using such entangled photons, the microscope visualizes much smaller structures than could be achieved with ordinary light.

In this case, the scientists generated entangled photons by converting a laser beam into pairs of photons that were in opposite polarization states at the same time (superposed particles). The physicists used special nonlinear crystals to achieve this superposition and then focused the entangled photons on two adjacent spots on a flat glass plate with a Q-shaped pattern made in relief on the plate’s surface. This pattern is only 17 nanometers higher than the rest of the plate and almost impossible to see with a standard optical microscope. However using the entangled pairs, the lettering was completely visible and 1.35 times sharper (signal-to-noise ratio) than the standard quantum limit.


Inevitably, obtaining an image was not as simple as using an eyepiece. In this case, the team generated the image electronically by measuring the difference in optical path length between the two beams, a difference that is caused by the marginally thicker glass where the letter rises up from the surrounding surface. The scientists could not measure this directly, so they used the interference pattern of both beams as they passed through the glass. Since each of the entangled protons provides information about the other, the process is more efficient and results in a sharper image.

The major drawback to the process is that it took almost a full day for the microscope to generate actual images so a key improvement for commercial development is the ability to speed image development. However, the team has proven that the refractive index of light microscopes can be enhanced which could have a major beneficial impact on Life Sciences and other disciplines such as cryptography. Currently, in order to observe transparent organisms in such detail, X-Rays or electron microscopes are required. Both are expensive while X-Rays cause damage to living cells. Since this entangled photons approach uses simple lasers with infrared rays, it offers both an inexpensive and harmless solution to future generations.

[Research paper: 10.1038/ncomms3426 – “An entanglement-enhanced microscope”; open-access PDF]

February 25, 2014

Watch a Snowflake Grow

My last blog encouraged kids to look at a snow crystal under a microscope, something you can do more easily than you might realize. But this Vimeo video takes it to a whole new level. Filmed through a microscope by Russian filmmaker Vyachelsav Ivanov, it shows the simple beauty of snow crystals as they grow. You can clearly see the geometry in the exquisite time-lapse photography which combined with appropriately simple musical accompaniment provides a winter pleasure for all ages.

Most of our OptixCam digital microscope cameras include the ability to employ time-lapse photography and while you may require some practice before matching this video, it is a fun and useful feature that is easier to use than you might think.

Let it snow!




February 05, 2014

Snow under the Microscope


For much of the Northeast US, the winter snow has arrived with a vengeance. Schools are closed. Kids are thrilled, but stir crazy and parents are praying for relief. There is only so much sledding you can do and who plays in snow without getting cold and wet? So why not take a closer look?

Snowflakes are not only magical in drifts, but also as individual crystals. With a little bit of patience and a low power microscope, you can successfully engage your kids in a worthwhile activity that will produce some spectacular images. Snowflakes start as water vapor that is supercooled below freezing. It is not frozen rain, which we know as sleet. Rather the water vapor freezes round a particle of dust and grows from there as additional water vapor attaches. The resulting crystals have an extraordinary range of shapes and sizes largely depending on the temperature and humidity outside. In addition, time and the distance additional water vapor has to travel to reach the crystal affects the level of complexity of an individual snowflake.

These four variables: temperature, humidity time and distance are responsible for the fact that every snow crystal is unique although the full science behind it is still a mystery. Interestingly though, snow crystals do fall into approximately 35 different categories that range from the most common, simple hexagonal prism to some extremely complex shapes. The dryer the air (low humidity), typically the simpler the shape. As they grow through a process known as branching, they become more complex

Now, it’s time to try your hand at viewing or photographing a snowflake and an individual snow crystal. You will need a low power microscope (with or without a microscope camera) or a handheld digital microscope. Leave it in the garage so it gets suitably cold although ensure that it is not exposed to any condensation. Similarly, leave a glass slide, small artist’s paint brush and a 3×1” piece of dark-colored, construction paper in the garage or outside where they are protected from the elements. In other words, you want them cold!

Now wrap up warm. First, look at an entire snowflake. Hold the construction paper out in the snow or carefully place a sample of snow on to the paper. Make sure that you keep the underside of the paper dry as you do not want to get your microscope wet. Now quickly place the paper under the microscope and focus it. View it at different magnifications and note the level of detail that you see.

Now take the paint brush and carefully, lift a single flake on to the glass slide Place it quickly, but carefully under the microscope and focus in on the individual crystal. Take a quick picture and try to note its shape and branching characteristics.


You can achieve good results with any low power microscope or digital microscope.  You should also try different lighting. For example, use a different color filter for more definition or try a back light. For more sophisticated use, we recommend an OCS digital system that includes a microscope camera with a monocular zoom lens.

In any event, it is a rewarding project that will keep your kids happy outside – and that’s the main thing!

January 27, 2014

Putting Technology to Work

The revolution in digital technology has touched the microscope world in some truly amazing ways. With a few mouse clicks you can now get a state-of-the-art digital microscope capable of 400X magnification that fits in the palm of your hand. Did I mention they are easy enough for a child to use? Simply hold the microscope over the object, focus the image using the thumbwheel and capture detailed images or video at the touch of a finger.

Yet this tremendous capability is not without a few shortcomings. The compact design means that the image sensors and focusing lenses have a big job to do and a very small space in which to do it. In many situations this can lead to compromises in lens quality, depth of field issues, and limited magnification range, resulting in blurry edges, hazy colors and less-than-optimum images.

Fortunately, these issues and many more have been addressed by Dino-Lite in their new lineup of Edge series handheld digital microscopes, all of which feature brand new 1.3MP CMOS sensors, full range magnification from 10X to 220X, wider field of view and enhanced LED illumination.

Magnification Displayed Automatically




The AM4515ZTW will automatically display the magnification level on screen, making it easy to dial up or return to a specific magnification level again and again. This is especially helpful to quality assurance inspectors who need to make frequent comparisons at a known level of magnification for their certification workflow.


The AM4815ZT has two distinct image capture modes which are unique and proving quite popular. They are Extended Depth of Field (EDOF) and Extended Dynamic Range (EDR). EDOF mode works by automatically capturing several images in sequence, each of which is at a slightly different focus depth. The software will then digitally “stack” or compile the images into one frame, resulting in a single sharp image with vertical surfaces (Z-axis) in clear focus. This makes it perfect for inspecting bolts, drill bits, bore holes and anything with a degree of height or depth.

EDOF in action



The EDR capture mode uses the same mulit-image concept, yet with highly reflective surfaces. It functions by automatically taking many images at slightly different exposure settings and then digitally “stacking” or integrating them into a single image. In this fashion, the EDR mode can reveal areas of pitting, corrosion and other details of dark or reflective areas which may be lost in normal imaging.

EDR in Action

This type of imaging fidelity works well for pcb quality inspection, certified gemstone identification and grading, electronics repair, and any situation calling for a big image of a very small part.

Pretty incredible stuff when you consider that this imaging capability has only been around for a handful of years at the most, and it bears strong testimony to the warp speed of technological development we currently live in. One can only wonder where we’ll be in a year, or even 6 months from now.

January 20, 2014


Ant under the microscope

Most people know that a monkey was the first mammal into Space, but I only just learned that 800 ants are at this very minute guests on the International Space Station (ISS). The idea is to observe how the the ants adapt their foraging behavior in microgravity conditions with a view to developing more intelligent robots. While this may not seem an obvious source of robotic inspiration, ants engage in collective behavior, or ‘distributed algorithms’ in robotics, to achieve a variety of objectives including foraging.

Professor Deborah M. Gordon, of Stanford University who leads the experiment created a series of eight rectangular habitats with dividers between each area. Each area had about 100 ants (Tetramorium caespitum) inside. When the dividers were in place, the ants were limited to their initial area with a correspondingly high density of ants. In this high density environment each ant foraged within a small area in what appeared to be a circular and random pattern. When the dividers were removed, the ants experienced a lower density environment and walked in straighter lines.

Apart from helping robotic technology, the experiment is being monitored by thousands of students across the US. These students are participating in live science while hopefully, gaining inspiration to work in space science, not to mention having fun at the same time. I for one never had a science project live from the ISS!

Professor Gordon pointed out that all animals have to adjust to microgravity environments, be it human, ape or insect. For example, the way nutrients circulate around cells differently or the way genes are expressed. By the same token, all animals need to re-adapt to Earth’s gravity on return. An amusing example comes from a Johnson Jumper spider that was a guest on the ISS in 2012. While the spider did adapt to microgravity, it also needed to re-adapt to earth on its return. For a short time, it kept jumping….and landing on its back.

But this experiment extends beyond the rarified atmosphere of Outer Space. It can involve you. Professor Gordon hopes that students round the world will record the collective action of their local ants when foraging. All you need is to build a couple of interconnected habitats with dividers so that you can experiment with both high and low density populations. Ants also are fascinating to examine under a microscope…..but that’s for a later blog. Meanwhile, enjoy the video of these brave “antronauts”!

December 11, 2013

Holiday Gifts – Which Microscope ?

As you can imagine, at this time of year, we receive a lot of calls from parents and grandparents asking which microscope they should buy for their young (grand) child. While we have an article on this question it is worth summarizing for Holiday convenience!

We have three recommendations, bearing in mind that our most important criteria is to engage the kids.

Explorer Pro Handheld Digital Microscope

Most parents arrive at our store with an image in their minds of a classic compound (high power) microscope. They believe their child to be very bright and they are hoping to stimulate an interest in science. Unfortunately, this often means pushing the child towards a high power microscope, but increasingly we lean towards starting with a handheld digital microscope such as the Explorer Series as a better and more engaging type of microscope. Most kids love all things digital and the Explorer Series provide a high COOL quotient. They are easy-to-use, offer instant live video and still images in addition to a good value/quality equation. They are plain fun to use, yet are used in industrial inspection throughout the world.

By the same token, the classic compound microscope may, at worst, be inappropriate and, at best, less than engaging. The reason is that a high power microscope involves specimens that are quite abstract in nature. Young children, however bright, typically do not have the level of cognitive development to be engaged by such abstract images as cells on microscope slides. After all, without stains, many specimens are rather dull and colorless!

That said, the fun of a compound microscope lies in the slide preparation. Choosing which specimen can be a thoroughly inclusive, cross-generational activity that is great fun for the child, parent and grandparent. Taking the cheek swab or preparing the onion skin requires significantly more time in preparation than actually viewing it. Typically, we recommend a compound microscope for kids with an established interest in microscopy and/or science, for kids over 12 years old or where budget is highly limited since there are a several good value such microscopes for kids.

The alternative for younger kids is a stereo or low power microscope. These microscopes are used to view macro specimens that are visible to the naked eye: insects, crystals, pond cum etc. The advantage is that the kids can immediately relate to the specimen since they can see it. A bee, for example, is instantly recognizable. In addition, it is instanttly ready fr viewing. Simply place it on the stage of the microscope. The only drawback is that young kids may not be big enough to use the binocular eyepieces since the distance between their eyes maybe less than the distance between the eyepieces(interpupillary distance), even at the lowest setting. However, they can use one ocular until big enough to graduate to both eyepieces.

Of course, ultimately, much depends on the level of child’s interest, your budget and specific application, but if in any doubt, give us a call for further advice, Toll Free: 877-409-3556.

Happy Holidays!

December 06, 2013


To our great delight, our new 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:

November 27, 2013

Exploring Faces in Mold

Mold face in profile

This morning, I had a craving for pâté on toast. Weird maybe, but not as weird as what I found on the pâté, which has been sitting in the refrigerator too long. Mold! I though it would be fun to see what it looks like under one of our new Explorer handheld digital microscopes and before I knew it, I was seeing strange faces in the images.

These images were taken using an Explorer Pro 1 which includes 1.3MP resolution and 10x-50x, 200x variable magnification. It took all of a few seconds to set up and I have been dodging ‘real work’ while I played with it. But it is the day before Thanksgiving, after all!

That’s what I like about these Explorer microscopes. They are easy and fun to use while you can explore all sorts of items around your house and garden.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and may your turkey be absent any sign of mold.

Mold face close-up

Dinosaur Face

Elephant Man Face


November 21, 2013

Tears under a Microscope

Basal tear, photo Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica CA

Occasionally…. very occasionally amid the deafening ‘noise’ of irrelevant blogs, tweets and posts, I stumble across a real gem, a testament to the power of human curiosity and creativity. Rose-Lynn Fisher’s microscopic study, The Topography of Tears is one such gem.

Inspired by her own “period of personal change, loss and copious tears”, Fisher was curious about whether tears of grief looked different from tears of joy and laughter. Not content with just being curious, she photographed 100 tears using a standard compound microscope. Many were her own tears. Some were from friends and at least one from a baby. Her conclusions were not just scientifically interesting, but poetic; her writing is as good as her photographs and it is worth reading her description of the project.

Laughing tear, photo Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica CA

Science divides tears into three categories:

  • Physic tears such as grief and joy, which are triggered by extreme emotions
  • Basal tears which the eye releases continuously in tiny quantities as a corneal lubricant
  • Reflex tears in response to irritants such as onion vapors and dust.

As most people know, tears are in essence salt water, but they also contain a variety of oils, enzymes and antibodies. Physic tears, for example, contain hormones such as prolactin (associated with milk production) and the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin which acts as a natural painkiller when the body is under stress.

These different molecules account for some of the differences that Fisher photographed. In addition, the circumstances and setting of how the tear evaporates determines the shape and formation of the salt crystals so that two identical tears can look entirely different close up.

So much for the science!

For Fisher, tears are more poetic and “evoke a sense of place, like aerial views of emotional terrain……..a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series is alike an ephemeral atlas”. Like Fibonacci numbers, Fisher sees a repetitive pattern in tears similar to the earth’s topography. ” I marvel….how the patterning of nature seems so consistent, regardless of scale. Patterns of erosion etched in to the earth over millions of years may look quite similar to the branched crystalline tears of an evaporated tear”.

Onion tear, photo Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica CA

“It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean. “

Tears of grief, photo Rose-Lynn Fisher, courtesy of the artist and Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica CA

What I particularly admire is that Fisher translated what started as idle curiosity into substantive action with  a result that is as beautiful as it is interesting. The idea is ingenious, but the execution is relatively simple, easily within the realm of the average family.

I would encourage you to try this experiment at home and send us your resulting images. After all, the Holidays is a time of extreme emotions all round, when tears of joy and grief abound.

November 20, 2013


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, 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


Today marks a first for….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 07, 2013

Mount Toba – Super Volcano

The Jakarta Times reported, yesterday that geologists fear that Mount Toba, on Sumatra may erupt again as a super volcano. Toba has already accounted for the largest known earthquake in the last 2 million years when it spewed out more than 2,500 cubic kilometers…that’s kilometers, not meters….of magma and which ultimately resulted in the formation of  the world’s largest quaternary caldera’s (35 x 100 km) that is now Lake Toba.

The scientists, who include Craig A. Chesner of Eastern Illinois University have identified a huge magma chamber at a depth between 20-100 kilometers. The concern is that one of the frequent earthquakes in the region could set off an eruption, which would have potentially devestating consequences.

Anau Krakatau 2009 - Photo: Iris Karinkanta

Indonesia consists of more than 13,000 islands, spread over an area the size of the United States. It has the greatest number and density of active volcanoes with 129 being actively monitored by scientists. Most volcanoes in Indonesia stretch from NW Sumatra (including Mount Toba), to the Banda Sea and are largely the result of the subduction of the Indian Ocean crust beneath the Asian tectonic plate.  As if this were not enough, there are other subductions that make the picture more complex and….more dangerous.

Unsurprisingly, it also has the largest number of historically active volcanoes (76), and the second largest number of dated eruptions (1,171)  exceeded marginally by Japan (1,274).  Indonesian eruptions have also caused the highest number of fatalities, damage to arable land, mudflows, tsunamis, domes, and pyroclastic flows. 80% of such dated eruptions have erupted since 1900 although such analysis only stretches back to the 15th century!

Volcanic Rocks, Courtesy of

Two of the most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in recent history include the devestating eruption of Tambora in 1815 which altered the world’s weather to such an extent that, in Europe, 1816 became known as ‘the year without summer’. More famous was the  disastrous eruption of Krakatau in 1883, not so much due to the magnitude of the eruption as to the magnitude of the tsunamis. Tsunamis accounted for 30-40,000 lives and secured Krakatau’s place in the collective memory of the world.

All of these volcanic eruptions create igneous rocks of one kind or another. Under a microscope, they can help tell the story of what happened and when while also presenting a glorious array of colors and crystals. Polarizing microscopes are best used for examining such rock specimens but surface textures an colors can be viewed with our new Explorer Series Rock Hound packages.

Explorer Pro Rock Hound Microscope Package