Flea Glasses and Hidden Spaces

Imagine the excitement of using one of the world’s first magnifying glasses back in the 16th century. All those creatures and items too tiny for examination with the naked eye would have suddenly revealed some of their secrets.

Early magnifying glasses were so popular for looking at minuscule life forms such as fleas that they were sometimes called ‘flea glasses’. The workings of bodily and natural mechanics that were once hidden by size were revealed.

Ah, well. The opportunities available today for finding hidden spaces are multitudinous. I saw these images and wanted to share them.

Wheat flowerbud, winning image in the 2014 Australian Museum New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography. Taken with an electron microscope. Photo: Mark Talbot

Wheat flowerbud, winning image in the 2014 Australian Museum New Scientist Eureka Prize for Science Photography.
Taken with an electron microscope.
Photo: Mark Talbot

It’s not just size or distance that has been revealed by new viewing methods, it’s time.

There are countless cellular processes that have been well-studied and photographed – but here’s a new option for viewing these processes in real time and in 3-D.  Lattice light-sheet microscopy uses extremely rapid pulses of ultra-thin sheets of light to scan living cells.

Below, a still image from the film showing HeLa cell division.

This kind of tool can help researchers better understand the actual behavior of cells and processes, furthering understanding of how cancer cells develop, for example.

But as the new microscopes inventor, Dr. Eric Betzig, has said, there are undoubtedly many applications for this kind of vision which haven’t even been discovered yet.

Because, of course, sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for until we find something looking back at us that wants further investigation.

HeLa division.  Source: Chen et al via Science

HeLa cell division.
Source: Chen et al via Science

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Small Fold, Big Surprise

Last week I posted a story about Big Origami.

This week, it’s Small Origami.

Namely, an origami microscope.

Source: Foldscope Team

Source: Foldscope Team


The Foldscope website says it as concisely as I possibly could, perhaps due to their experience with efficient use of space:

“Foldscope is an origami-based print-and-fold optical microscope that can be assembled from a flat sheet of paper.

“Although it costs less than a dollar in parts, it can provide over 2,000X magnification with sub-micron resolution (800nm), weighs less than two nickels (8.8 g), is small enough to fit in a pocket (70 × 20 × 2 mm3), requires no external power, and can survive being dropped from a 3-story building or stepped on by a person.

“Its minimalistic, scalable design is inherently application-specific instead of general-purpose gearing towards applications in global health, field based citizen science and K12-science education.”

Source: Foldscope Team

Source: Foldscope Team

An invention of the Stanford University Department of Bioengineering, the body of the microscope can be printed out on card stock; add a lens, an LED light and a button battery. The Foldscope group would like to give away 10,000 microscope sets for testing. You can request your own DIY kit here, and watch the TED talk on the microscope here.

Image: Foldscope Team

Image: Foldscope Team

All that’s needed for the microscope slide is clear adhesive tape, and the device can be configured for different magnifications depending on the type of lens used.

The idea is that an inexpensive tool like this can be widely distributed to areas where a standard microscope would be inaccessible due to price or distribution. A variety  of diseases, from malaria to African sleeping sickness, could be screened using the tool. But the microscope can also be used in classrooms or for field research. And if it gets torn or broken, it is easily replaced.

Foldscope images Source: Foldscope Team

Foldscope images
Source: Foldscope Team

I never expected to be using the words ‘origami’ and ‘microscope’ to describe the same object, but there it is. Today’s pleasant surprise.