A Closer Look

This is the Journal version.  If you want to see images only, please click here:


At age seventy-five and a half, I knew I needed to find a new learning edge.

Poser compositions and Java programming (both personal obsessions for years) were getting stale.

I considerd astronomy, then remembered how cold the winter nights can get and that merely tilting my head

backwards triggers sudden vertigo that topples me if I don't immediately grab something stable

and look at the ground.

2018's April nighttime temps regularly fell to the mid-20's,

so I thought some challenging night-or-day indoor hobby would be best.

Then I bought a microscope, and here it is:

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A biologist friend had recently introduced me to "phase contrast,"

and I'd done enough on-line research to know the hardware "essentials"

and this mid-range priced scope had them all.  Since I intended to make still photos and videos of my work,

 I also bought this 14 MP microscope camera:

It took days for me to learn enough of the microscope/camera's technology to get 'closer looks' good enough

to begin a permanent collection of images.  My first project involved a misadventured wasp that I found crawling

pathetically on my living room floor.  When the insect finally died at the bottom of the open glass I'd collected it in,

I began observing one of its feet at four magnification levels:

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The last of those images is actually a composite of 99 "stacked" photos - each taken at a precise distance

from the most distant point in the focal depth, stepping forward until the closest in-focus image has been found.

The software that makes this otherwise impossible view possible is Helicon Focus.

I highly recommend it to all photographers or microbe hunters who wish to share their work.

It took me a couple of days to get the phase contrast condenser occuli adjusted;

then I realized that phase contrast is primarily for viewing the internal details of transparent specimens

(and my wasp's foot was not transparent - so I switched all of the phase contrast objectives

and condenser back to the regular ones.)

Of course, I wanted to explore the video possibilities of the microscope's camera,

so I made a very amateur 10x vid of a portion of the wasp's wing.

Here's the Helicon Focus image:

As of April 9th, I am two weeks into my microsopic adventures.

Every new specimen offers surprises.

( What non-entomologist would have guessed that the feet of insects bear claws

or that wasps' wings have barbs? )

Then a hapless stinkbug landed near me.

 ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_marmorated_stink_bug )

After it took a quick dip in a capful of alcohol and had dried sufficiently,

 I looked at its foot and compared it with the wasp's:


I then discovered that the stinkbug has four wings - two outer, more opaque ones

and two inner, more transparent ones:


Among the many things I learned quickly was that higher magnification

(40x or higher) is sometimes less preferable than lower magnification.

High magification reduces the visible area of the specimen,

reduces the depth of field (how much is in focus), and may create focusing challenges

including deciding exactly what to focus on.

Helicon Focus eliminates much of the problem but also takes more time,

since each "stacked" layer must be "captured," saved, and processed.

There are many fine online galleries featuring Helicon Focus microphotography.

Here is one of them:  http://www.fotofind.eu/fauna/mikrofauna/

I've also discovered that exploring different options with both

microscope and software can yield dramatically different results.

Here are some of my explorations with stinkbug antennae and "knee" joints:


April 15, 2018 -- Rainy Sunday

This morning I'd almost decided to send the scope back for a refund.

The phase contrast wasn't working, and the videos I made were jerky and dark.

I began today's adventures by turning the scope around on the table,

giving me easier access to both the stage and the turret holding phase contrast annuli.

I quickly discovered that this small change made everything easier: mounting slides,

focusing, changing the stage's x, y, and z locations, and adjusting the brightness

of the halogen illuminator bulb.

I took another stab at installing the entire phase contrast system and finally

got all of the annuli centered precisely - so it became a phase contrast afternoon using available indoor subjects:

Epithelial cells from inside cheek: 

A drop of "clear" rainwater:

Mold spores from something OLD in the fridge (no more):

For comparison, a non-phase contrast shot of the same spores:

April 17, 2018 - Cold, blustery, waiting-for-the-surveyor-who-never-came day:

Quickie question for arachnologists:  How many "knee" joints does a spider have?

Spiders, being arachnids, have eight legs; each of which has four segments connected by three joints.

Therefore, spiders have 24 "knees."  I spent today looking at one of them:


April 19, 2018 - A Minor Success

  After trying unsuccessfully for almost four weeks, I was finally successful at making videos that would play for more than 21 seconds.   However, this required my calling AmScope's technician, who wanted me to find the camera's purchase I.D. number (which I couldn't find right away) so I could return the camera (which I didn't want to do because the problem was NOT in the camera - It was in the software.)  He then gave me a URL for downloading upgrades of the camera's software - which I did.  After uninstalling the original program and installing the upgrade, I was finally able to make videos longer than 21 seconds.  I still had a problem finding creatures in rainwater samples - but I finally found ONE today.  Unfortunately, I did not have the phase contrast installed at the time, so I made the video using the regular 40x objective and condenser.  The little guy was frisky and better at hiding than I was at finding him.  I'm not happy with it, but here it is:  
  When it warms up, I'm sure more creatures will appear and it will take less time to find them.

Waiting for the rain barrel to SPRING to life, I looked at salt:


Early spring dandelion


April 27 - I traveled to Beavercreek, Ohio, to have lunch and borrow my biologist friend's Leitz LaborLux 12 microscope.
I was delighted to discover that my 14 Megapixel camera and his Leitz Wexlar objectives were perfectly
interchangeable on both microscopes.  Here are some images I made using his objectives on my microscope:

Bluejay feather:


Cherry blossom stamen:


April 29 - Cool Sunday.  In my entire yard only three flowers are in bloom today:
the cherry blossoms, a tiny blue flower, and a tiny white flower.  So, I'm using available resources again:

Little white flower (garlic-mustard)


Little blue flower


Beetle foot:


Ant foot:


Dandelion seed and seed's "parachute":


May 6 - Beautiful spring Sunday:  After relocating a bird feeder and transplanting a lot of coleus plants,
I wanted to play with the scope.  I remembered a fan-powered insect catcher that I've used for years to clear
the inside of the house of flying insects.  I dug it out of winter storage, hoping I'd not emptied its
debris-cluttered tray at the end of last summer.  I had not!

I have marked both of the insects I examined with red squares - a tiny fly and a beetle.

Miscellaneous Insects from Fly Catcher






May  12 - Mysterious Creature
I pinched a bit of moist soil from an outdoor flowerpot and put it in a bowl filled with rainwater.
My very first sample from this mix yielded this "creature":


For a while, I thought this "creature" had seven "arms," but I was unable to identify it through online searches.
I then took another sample from the saucer and found this similar organism with nine "arms":


Still, no cilia or chloroplasts - no discernable cell structure like the first one,
and flat rather than tubular "arms."  I will continue searching.
Update:  I posted pictures and requested identification at  http://www.microbehunter.com/microscopy-forum/index.php
It is Stellate Trichome, an out-growth of epidermal cells of many plant species.
Stellate Trichome has been identified in 90 million-year-old amber.

Sunday May 13 - First Rotifer sightings:

A four-minute video of a nest of Rotifers:  http://hermitdog.com/microscope/Nest.mp4

A four minute video of a very frisky Rotifer:  http://hermitdog.com/microscope/Rotifer_1.mp4