Exploring Biophilia Through a USB Microscope

Tiny Strawberry. Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

I'm in North Carolina this week, visiting my parents with my sister and nieces. It's a confusing time, with both my nieces and parents demanding both my sister's and my attention. "Which imaginary friend do you want to help me feed?" "Did I show you this?" So I welcome activities which can engage everyone, including me.

For this visit, my father bought an inexpensive USB microscope. I've been thinking about getting one of these myself, so I welcomed the opportunity to play around with one. It also turned an otherwise ordinary trip through the backyard with the nieces into an expedition. We collected samples - "specimens" - along the way, for examination under the microscope. Here are some of the highlights.

Moss and Lichen from a decaying stump. Credit: Xris.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

Tip of a fern frond (unidentified). Credit: Xris

Diseased Leaf, Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

Another Diseased Leaf. Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

Nurtured by our parents, Both my sister and I have a life-long love of nature, and she has clearly nurtured the same in her children. My nieces picked out all these samples. They identified, and I gathered many of the specimens (there was poison ivy about). In a half-hour expedition, we collected about 20 samples, most of which went under the microscope. Much of that half-hour was taken up by observing the wildlife: electric blue damselflies, swallowtail butterflies, a frog, fish, a cardinal, and a rabbit. My nieces each carried their own binoculars. They're 7 and 8 years old.

All the images are snapshots at 10X magnification. This microscope also offers 60X and 200X, but the controls are mushy and it's difficult to hold an image in the narrow field of focus. The software is intuitive; my nieces figured out the controls before I did! My nieces did most of the manipulation of framing and lighting for the images above. I've credited the photos accordingly above. It took me some exploration to figure out how to capture an image and export it to a JPEG for upload. I did some tweaks for image capture, and some post-processing for shadows and contrast.

They're brilliant, sometimes scary-smart, children. It's a privilege to share and explore the world with them.


Anonymous said...

I thought your Flickr photostream looked awfully southern and rural for Brooklyn. Interesting post; I hadn't been aware of USB microscopes on the consumer level but of course now I want one, too. TOYS! TOYS! TOYS!

Your nieces sound delightful - it's such fun sharing the things you love with kids who appreciate and understand them.

burning silo said...

What a neat way to spend some time with your nieces!

Frank Jump said...

Love the shot! I've been taking macro shots of nature myself lately and you've sold me on this USB gadget.

Frank Jump