This week has taken on a theme of microscopy, so today I will continue with it and answer a couple of readers’ questions about what I use for my – admittedly amateur – sand images. Back in London, I have a binocular microscope and an attachment that allows me to screw on my old digital camera (not a full-blown SLR, but a fixed lens with an excellent telephoto and threaded for filters and microscope adapters). However, I didn’t want to haul all this out to Indonesia. I am currently awaiting the arrival of a small shipment - no, it’s not coming by sailing barge, but it could not even leave England until I had work and residence permits, a somewhat prolonged bureaucratic process….. In that shipment is a full-sized Celestron digital microscope that I much look forward to playing around with, but to keep me going, and to fill in at the lower magnification range, I decided to bring with me a small hand-held digital microscope.
I had first seen one of these devices used on a television science lecture, and was impressed. I now have one and remain impressed. I don’t do commercials on this blog, but it’s obviously necessary to give some details: it’s a Celestron 44302 microscope, incredibly available for less than $65 in the U.S., and, unusually, for a fair exchange rate equivalent price in the UK. It’s small and light, and comes with a simple bit of software so that after installation it’s just USB plug-and-play. And play with this thing you really can. It has a built in LED light and the magnification of 10-40x and a higher value around 150x is controlled by a large ribbed knob. You can take snapshots and video using the built-in 1.3mp camera, and the software includes some kind of image organisation capability. In reality, I prefer to simply use “alt-print screen” and transfer the image directly into Photoshop where I can do what I want with it.
The stand that it comes with is extremely useful, certainly at low magnifications; it takes quite a bit of playing around and fiddling with the focus (plus taking lots of images and deleting many – the wonders of digital photography) to obtain satisfactory results. One problem is that there is a finite time delay between adjusting the focus and the result showing up on the computer screen, plus moving the focus dial easily nudges the microscope and you lose where you were. In some situations, particularly at higher magnifications, I find that I have to hold the microscope rather than using the stand and have a willing assistant press “alt-Prt Sc” on my command. And the colour and contrast treatment is not great in the digital imaging system – hence the value of Photoshop. For 3D objects, such as a great variety of sand grains of different sizes nestling together, depth of field is always going to be a problem – it was for my set-up back in the UK and it certainly is with this. When I am reunited with my full-size microscope, I will look into software that I believe exists that takes a series of images taken in sequential focus on a 3D object and combines them into a single, completely in-focus, image. But take a look, for example, at Gary Greenberg’s microphotography of sand grains for what can be achieved with highly sophisticated and specialised technology.
So, this little device certainly doesn’t fall into the category of highly sophisticated technology, but it sure is clever, it serves my purpose – and it’s fun. It would be a wonderful addition to any school classroom and any home with a kid with even a hint of an interest in science – for the price, I think it’s amazing.
Oh yes – this sand. It’s from Bradenton Beach (thanks, Lori!), a barrier island on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s dominated by tiny, clean, quartz grains and large shell fragments – plus some little black grains; I’m not really sure what the latter are – my guess is that they are of organic origin. The sweeping expanse of Bradenton beach is shown below; it’s an image taken from a real-estate site, and close examination shows why – housing and development crowds the shores yet again on one of the most unstable and shape-shifting, storm-prone environments on the planet. I have asked why this makes any sense in earlier posts, so I won’t bother repeating the question today.