Field of Science

Turve = Peat in Finnish

A postdoc pal recently came back from visiting family in Finland and brought me this gift for managing the postdoc seminar series here at UC Davis while she was away. 

I love the hand-build soap dish. I have been a potter for the last 8 years, so I don't by pottery very often, especially if it is something I can make myself. So getting some as a gift is quite the treat. And best of all the soap is made from peat moss! I can't see any stems of Sphagnum mixed in the soap, but it does smell a bit like peat moss. I will definitely enjoy using this mossy-filled soap! 

Translation of the first four lines.
Domestic, Hand-made
Rapeseed Oil Soap

Mosses on the Walls

Many species of mosses grow on vertical surfaces. Rock walls, brick walls, trees. Unfortunately mosses on vertical surfaces are pretty scarce here in the central valley of California. Despite the scarcity, I now have some new mosses hanging on my wall at home.

From the Yale Peabody Museum
This is not a wall hanging but is a moss covered dishtowel! I decided to hang it in the kitchen instead of using it as a towel. Now that I see it up on the wall I think it could use a bit of ironing. 

The images on the towel are probably from an old German text illustrating the different parts of the mosses.

Above are sporophytes attached to some leafy gametophytes. But what is the moss species? The light pink and green circle in the middle left is the top of the capsule and looks like a moss in the Polytrichaceae. Nematodontous teeth with an epiphragm. Basically those are teeth around the opening of the capsule attached to a disc that combine to form a salt-shaker dispersal mechanism. However, the gametophyte leaves don't look like Polytrichaceae. The leaves are typically covered in lamellae and are significantly longer than wide. Anyone else have a guess about this species? There wasn't a reference for the images on the towel. It would have been super nerdy and helpful if they had included a citation. 

Some beautiful peristome teeth.
A Dicranum-type on the left and a Bryum-type on the right.
Thanks Rachel for this awesome present! A great combination of my love of mosses and my midwestern abundance of dishtowels!

Build-Your-Own Microscope

The microscope that I built with my aunt.
Continuing my pursuit of home microscopy, I came upon these instructions for building a microscope and had to try it out. As a microscope, it is bulkier than the small lens I discussed in my last post, but one of the major advantages is stability. Both the phone and the sample can be held still making focusing much easier. 

I tackled this project when I was in Ohio visiting my family. My aunt is a prolific woodworker and I raided her shed for supplies and power tools. The only component I ended up purchasing was a laser pointer that I disassembled for the small, plastic focusing lens inside. My first thought was to head to an office supply store for a laser pointer, but then a cat-lover in my family mentioned that laser pointers for cats can be found in many pet sections. Three dollars later, I had a laser pointer to tear apart. The online instructions mention a site where small lenses can be ordered, so that less destruction is necessary. 
A view of the adjustable stage and light source.

The project took an afternoon. Cutting wood and plexiglass, drilling holes for the bolts, and then putting it all together. I think it took me longer to hunt up all the supplies in the metal chest of drawers full of an odd assortment of bolts, nuts, and washers, along with the trip to the store for the laser pointer, than the actually assembly.

Some challenges with the microscope. The stage is a bit unsteady and can be challenging to adjust both washers in sync to the same height. In the comments of the online instructions several people came up with solutions that enable just one wheel to turn and the height of both sides to be adjusted. I didn't try any of these modifications, but I think they would be a nice addition. My solution to the unsteady stage was to use very large washers on top of the smaller ones. The stage still wobbles a bit when adjusting up and down, but the large washers were a significant improvement. 

Another issue is the light source that I am using. It was hanging out in the shed so I just grabbed it to use. However the light has a bank of bulbs that make the background illumination uneven. A quick fix was putting a piece of paper over the top to diffuse the light, but in the long term I will need to hunt up a replacement. 

A quarter for a focusing test.
Here are some photos that I took using this microscopy setup. 

A zoomed in shot of pollen on a lily anther.
I think this one came out a bit better than the one
from my previous post. It was also a bit easier to
focus using the microscope stand.

I then mounted some of the pollen on a slide topped
by a coverslip. The edges of the grains were not a crisp
as I would have liked, but maybe that is just the limit
of this microscope's magnification range. 
And now to try this microscope out on some mosses! I had a Grimmiaceae sample hanging around in my desk and thought that it would be a good test for the microscope. 

It works pretty well as a dissecting microscope.
We can see the long white hair tips at the apex
of each leaf. 
The moss leaves came out a bit better than
the pollen grains. I think practicing with the microscope
improved my focusing and skill lining up the camera
with the lens to get a better photo. 

Overall I really like the setup and think that it is a good alternative for having a home microscope. After the test run, I think that I could use a more powerful lens, or I think some of the instructions mention stacking lenses. It has plenty of magnification to function as a dissecting microscope, but needs a bit more power to work well as a compound microscope, at least for things as small as mosses. 

If you end up building one of your own it would be great to hear about your experiences in the comments section!

July 2014 Desktop Calendar

July Desktop Calendar
1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will lose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use as Desktop Picture". The wording may vary.

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.