Giant Ants at Work – More Mobile Microscope

This time I didn’t do any damage to the mobile phone microscope as I did for the animated burning candle. I shot these on my walk from the car to campus, which I did basically with my head down looking for ants. So of course you start to notice things you don’t normally including these really beautiful yellow wild flowers.

I finally found my ants on campus near the steps to the entrance of the main building. They were working on their hill placing one grain of sand at a time, which in this GIF makes it look like they’re moving boulders.

Here’s the video as well with an extended look at the ant construction, but look for the critter on the white flower. I didn’t even notice it while shooting (it was bright and a hot 95° in Queens), the things you can discover with a portable microscope.

Things we would miss out on if individuals didn’t create and invent wonderful tools.

I was inspired by Prof. Smith to share a few cell samples from a previous biology course I took, hope you enjoy. I think they are real pieces of art work.

Mammal Adipose Tissue [400x]

Cell containing lipids (fat cells) in this figure have been stained with Sudan III dye. As we can observe adipose tissues indicate how lipids accumulate in cells.  In red is droplet containing lipid.


Potato Tuber Starch Grains [1000x oil ]

Plant tissue stores starch (polysaccharides) within the cytoplasm in the forms of granules. These cells have been stained with Periodic acid-Schiff stain this results in pink/purple stained starch. We observed some cells contain more than a few granules. Cell membrane is stained green.


Mammal colon goblet cells, mucous sec mc & h [100x]

The lining cells of the nose and other mucus secreting locations have compounds called mucopolysaccharide, which are glycoproteins. Mucopolysacharides in this figure are observed by the color red because it has been stained with Periodic acid-Schiff.

My Pants, Flowers, and Bit of Burn Out

So the parts to build the 350x microscope haven’t shown up yet, but the extremely inexpensive ($3) magnifying loop showed up. I like many a maker following the best instructions, ran into trouble. But that’s what makes the ‘thingy’ yours, not perfect but wholly mine.

I did achieve my first microscopic animated GIF of a candle flame. But I almost melted the microscope in the process.

Cellphone Microscopes, Please Break and Rebuild

Through a tweet I was pointed to this post about a middle school California standardized test which had a reading comprehension question on the proper use of a microscope.

The question that followed was this:

The microscope lens should initially be placed close to the glass slide:

A. Because focus is achieved by moving closer to the specimen.
B. Because the specimen on the slide will be in perfect focus.
C. To avoid breaking the glass slide when adjusting the focus.
D. To maintain distance from the microscopic stage.

The writer pointed out the insanity of students proving their knowledge of a microscope through their ability to follow a diagram’s instructions, which I completely agreed with and was equally disappointed by.

Have you ever looked through a microscope? Created a wet mount slide of pond water (I did in sixth grade) and utterly marveled at the world that exists inside that tiny space?

Inspired by the article, I started to search for what I new likely existed – hacks to build your own microscope with a mobile phone. I found this $5 one which is a 35x microscope that a maker attached to his iPhone case, creating a snap-on, snap-off microscope for his iPhone’s camera.

I ordered this little part from Amazon, but it’s not going to come in time for the class, so I’m going to make something a little harder, a 350x microscope attachment for the mobile phone. I looks to be a bit harder to make (and more expensive) but I’m hoping to use it for making not just 350x pictures, but videos as well. There’s another group making a similar scope that uses wet mount slides. The video will be really fun I hoping to make more animated GIFs, one of my ongoing passions.

Be a Maker!!!!

One thing that is surely to happen in your experience as a K-12 teacher in New York City is you will find resources (especially technology) limited. You can and should be frustrated by this situation, but also you can look to maker culture as a beacon of hope if you’re willing to pull things apart and build. They are willing to get their hands dirty, pulling apart iPhones, hacking code, and even simply getting on the hammer, screw gun and doing-it-themselves.

I’d like you to watch this talk by Grant Potter at University of Mary Washington’s 2012 Faculty Academy. It’s great as he makes a lot of connections between maker values and education.

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This ideal is one that I’ve recently been thinking about for teachers through the likes of friends who’ve been experimenting with 3-D printers like the MakerBot, and through David Darts (maker of the pirate box), discovering Cory Doctorow’s short scifi story Printcrime. I’ve been used to scanning and printing on color lasers, injets, and offsetpress for some time, but now you can scan an object and print it. Relatively cheaply too. Just think, that dohicky thingy breaks on your kids nice plastic toy, and you could scan it and make a replacement part.

Now imagine what you could fix, build, create in a classroom with students if that were available? 3D printers like the makerbot are just becoming available due to a lower price point. Sadly York doesn’t have one (yet), so we’re going to work on another exercise to play with the maker ideal.

Over the next two weeks you are going to build a tool that you could use to support your teaching. The tool could be anything, a digital tool (code only and would possibly require programming), the mashing together of existing tools (I’m going to build an iPhone microscope), or even something you build with traditional tools – hammer, nails, wood, glue, popsicle sticks, exacto knives, paper mache, whatever.

Over the next two weeks you are going to do three blog posts about what you’re making:

1. For today you are going to propose something to make. I could be based on something someone else has built, and you’re just going to build it too. You also have to tell us how you and your students could use it in your future classroom. And even better, imagine how they could build their own version of the tool too. I want you also to reflect on Grant Potter’s talk and how it is feeding into your thoughts about what you plan to build.

2. Next Monday 6/18, you will blog with a video showing your process of building it. Here’s a good example for an iPhone microscope (video) and in photos of students building a camera obscura. Do you’re best to show steps.

3. And for the final maker post 6/25, you will demonstrate the tool’s use. You’ll need to make a video for this as well or we can use it with you in the final classroom.