In today’s modern era, it’s almost impossible to imagine a time when we didn’t know about microscopic particles and structures; magnification is a fundamental part of everyday life, from a pair of reading glasses to the side mirrors on a car. With the birth of the optical microscope in the 17th century, scientists were able to meticulously document, research, and discover a world of things normally invisible to the naked eye. It seemed as though the wonders of the microscopic was infinite – until the 1930s, when it became clear that optical microscopy wasn’t telling the entire story. There were forces at work that were far too small for even the most powerful lenses to see; at some point, the image simply couldn’t resolve clearly. It seemed as though optical microscopes had been pushed to their furthest possible limits. But how could something be too small for light to see, and how could you possibly examine it?
This set of problems was the catalyst for scientists to begin branching out from light-based microscopy. The theoretical framework explaining the limits of light-based magnification were already in place. The issue lay in understanding how light worked, and why it failed at certain magnifications. Visible light is electromagnetic radiation, part of a wide spectrum of rays that stretches from radio waves to X-rays, microwaves, gamma rays, and more. All EM Radiation is made of particles called photons, which travel in a wavelength; the speed and frequency of that wave will determine what sort of radiation it is, and how it interacts with various objects. X-rays, for instance, have a wavelength that is too short to bounce off of human flesh, but does reflect dense material like bone, allowing the doctor to clearly see your broken wrist. UV radiation can penetrate the skin enough to cause a sunburn, but we can’t see the rays with our eyes.
We are able to see objects because visible light bounces off of them and returns to our eyes. When that wavelength encounters an object, like a sample on a slide or the magnifying lenses of a microscope, the interference will cause the wave to spread out and weaken. As the light passes through a smaller and smaller space, it will scatter more and more. This phenomenon is called diffraction, and it is the major limit of optical microscopy: at a certain point, the photons are just too big and clunky to accurately bounce off of the sample and resolve clearly.
All of this was proven in 1873, when physicists Hermann von Helmholtz and Ernst Abbe demonstrated that optical resolution was dependent on the wavelength of the light source. They posed the crucial question: what if you could somehow use an illumination source that had a smaller wavelength than light? It was purely theoretical; the existence of electrons wasn’t proven until 1896. But the idea stayed around in various scientific circles; the theory that electrons could travel in a wave was proposed in a 1924 paper, and in 1926 German scientist Hans Busch showed that magnets could be used to direct a stream of electrons in a specific direction. The problems were in place and the theories were quickly being proven: it wouldn’t be long before scientists broke through the limits of light and found a way to see the invisible all over again.
We are often asked about immersion oil so here is a basic primer. Immersion oil is used with high power objectives, typically 90x or 100x.
Light microscopes have an upper limit to their resolving power of marginally over 1,000x. At this level of magnification, the microscope needs to direct every available amount of light in order to achieve a clear image. Since light is refracted and scattered in the air between the objective lens and the slide cover, immersion oil is used to capture much of that ‘lost light’.
In summary, light refracts through air and glass at different angles. The refractive index of air is 1.0 and that of glass, 1.5 so there is considerable refraction between the two. The immersion oil helps to reduce the refraction since it has a refractive index equal to glass. As a result, it forms a continuum between the objective lens and the slide, thereby successfully ensuring that more light is directed towards the specimen and ultimately, a clearer image.
Oil immersion objective lenses are typically engraved with the word “oil”, “immersion” or “HI” (homogenous immersion). They are manufactured with sealants to prevent damage from the oil.
Immersion oils are commonly available in two viscosities-low viscosity (Type A), and high viscosity (Type B). They are often labeled with a refractive index of 1.515. The low viscosity oil is applied to the airspace between slide and objective, the high viscosity oil is applied between the condenser and the slide.
How to Use it: Type A – Low Viscosity Oil
The majority of applications require Type A oil, which can be used as follows:
- Locate a specimen on the slide and center it in the image field.
- Rotate the nosepiece until the 100x objective lens is just to one side of the slide. Place a single drop of immersion oil on the slide cover slip and place a drop directly on the objective lens. Combined, both drops ensure no air is trapped in between.
- Rotate the 100x objective into place and adjust the fine focus to fully resolve the image.
It is very important to carefully clean the oil off your objective lens before it dries.
- Carefully wipe oil from all glass surfaces with a folded piece of clean lens paper.
- Moisten a piece of lens cleaning paper with lens cleaning fluid and wipe away any residual streaks of oil.
Any day now, an invasion will begin. Unsuspecting people up and down the Eastern seaboard from New England to North Carolina will run for cover. Weddings will be interrupted. The news channels will work themselves into a frenzy – and your lawns, trees and gardens will buzz with bulging, red-eyed invaders. Martians? No. Simply, the hatching of billions of Magicicadas.
For the past 17 years, billions of the inch-long bugs, which entomologists ominously refer to as “Brood II”, have been lying dormant underfoot. Quietly munching away on tree roots and vegetation 2-3 feet below us, they have awaited Mother Nature’s call to complete their 17 year life cycle.
That call happens when the soil temperature in their underground home climbs above 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the course of the next few weeks, billions of them will emerge and swarm with the primeval goal of mating before they die. Despite their ghoulish looks, they actually are quite harmless to humans and animals. For the most part, they hang out in trees and shrubs for a few weeks and then die, at which time their offspring venture underground to begin another 17-year cycle.
Even though this year’s brood is forecast to number in the billions, most of us won’t even see them. We most definitely will hear them. The male Cicada makes music by pushing air through vibrating organs in their abdomen, and quite effectively at that. As they sing their mating cry, a tree filled with males can fill the evening with sound volume approaching 90 decibels!
Apart from their rare appearance and song, what exactly are Cicadas good for besides water-cooler commentary? Well for starters, they’re edible! They are eaten by a wide variety of animals…….including humans. While not quite rising to the popularity of chocolate-covered crickets, they still hold their own at the adventurous dinner table. In fact their hearty flavor, which some intrepid souls describe as asparagus-like, can be found in a surprising variety of dishes like cheese, quiche, casseroles and
even dessert, for those ardent aficionados. Apparently, they are best eaten immediately after hatching which typically, occurs at night. Luckily, they are quite torpid after hatching so they can easily be scraped off the tree branches.
Abundant food, totally organic, nutritious, free and hilarious……..it didn’t take long for us here at Microscope.com to decide to hold a contest for the best Cicada recipe.
So dust off your family’s favorite Cicada recipe and send it in. We’d love to hear about it and you could have a chance to win a new microscope. One more reason to enjoy this “Season of the Cicada”…or should that be Cicada Seasoning? Bon Appetite!
Just send us an email, with recipe attached, to [email protected], anytime between now and the June 15, for your chance to win a new Omano OM115 compound microscope. The winner will be announced in a followup blog post.
IBM and Atom Films: Modern Microscopy in Action
In early May 2013, worldwide news outlets reported on a brand new short film on Youtube that had “gone viral” in terms of popularity. But this wasn’t a skateboarding dog or a grumpy cat; the one-and-a-half minute video, “A Boy and His Atom,” was touted as the smallest movie ever made. IBM researchers created the stop-motion film by manipulating individual atoms into place using a scanning tunneling microscope. Guinness World Records officially verified that it was the world’s smallest stop-motion film. It’s a vibrant and exciting example of the work that’s currently being done using applied microscopy.
“A Boy and his Atom” was a side project in the IBM laboratories; the main goal was to experiment with atomic-level magnetism for digital memory storage. Since the development of the first hard drive in the 1950s, processor technology has sped up at an exponential rate, but over that timeline all digital hard drives have worked in essentially the same way: they break information down into a stream of bits - a binary unit that can only show either one or zero – and program that long binary code into the microprocessors. The coding is usually done using electromagnetic currents running to a series of tiny “switches”, each of which will either flip to one or stay at zero.
Today’s modern microprocessors use approximately 1 million atoms to store one single bit of information; that’s every one or zero. While it seems like a lot of atoms, they can still fit quite easily into a 32 Gigabyte smartphone – that’s 200 trillion bits! However, IBM has been working to reduce the size of the bit even more. Through scanning tunneling microscopy, the research team recently discovered that they could store one bit of information in just 12 atoms of carbon monoxide magnetically arranged on a small copper plate. Atomic-scale magnetic memory means that we may someday be able to store unbelievable amounts of data into a very small hard disk.
“A Boy and his Atom” was a demonstration of IBM’s ability to control and move single atoms into recognizable shapes. They do this by using an incredibly powerful microscope, which magnifies the atoms about 100 million times. It’s far beyond the resolving capability of light microscopes, or even electron-based beams. The scanning tunneling microscope, or STM, was originally developed in 1986, and it relies on a phenomenon called quantum tunneling, in which atoms hover above the surface of a solid object in a “cloud”. When another surface comes close to the original one, their clouds overlap and can affect the positioning of the atoms. The STM’s tip is refined down to one single atom; it gets so close to the target atom that they chemically interact in a predictable way, allowing the STM to drag the atom across a surface. According to the scientists, the atoms actually make a distinct sound when being moved, which resembles a record scratch! The researchers used carbon monoxide atoms arranged on a copper 111 plate, which provided the best magnetic bonding. The scanning surface is cooled to about -230 Kelvin, so the atoms are not vibrating at a high speed. For the film, they built each frame out of atoms and took a photograph of the result, just like in traditional stop-motion animation.
“A Boy and His Atom” is a fascinating example of real microscopy and real results. The ability to move individual atoms around is an incredible leap forward for science, and the new 8-atom bit shows the potential that can result from this power, all done with a very powerful microscope and some innovative imagination.
With the ushering in of sun and warmth of Spring (in most of the country at least) comes the timeless ritual every child enjoys – the chasing and catching of butterflies, fireflies and moths. And what parent can forget the beaming smile of a son or daughter letting them peek between clasped fingers to glimpse a pair of colorful wings?
Wings which, unfortunately, are so delicate they tend to loose a bit of their shimmering, pixie-dust-like coating on anything they touch, including little fingers.
This coating, which feels like fine powder, is actually composed of very tiny scales. These scales in turn, are delicate hair fibers, shaped by Mother Nature to serve a very special purpose. Interestingly enough, moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera, which actually means “scale wing”. The scales are pigmented and their complex design is unique to each species, offering a quick way to identify their owner.
These tiny scales also contribute to the pattern on the wings by diffracting light through a complex microscopic structure of ribs and holes, as you can see. This particular image comes to us courtesy of “Anavitrinella Pampinaria”, or the Common Gray moth, captured with an Optixcam OCS1.3 digital microscope camera at 400X magnification.
When these scales are viewed under a microscope they actually look like – feathers! This shouldn’t be too surprising, since they serve many of the same functions as feathers, adding structure and protection to delicate wing membranes. If the scales do assist flight, the effect is subtle. Butterflies and moths don’t actually need the scales to fly, but their wings are very fragile and if you handle them enough to rub the scales off, you’ll probably also damage the wing skins in the process.
The scales on moth and butterfly wings help defend and camouflage them from predatory bats because their uneven shape prevents the bats “sonar” from seeing them clearly. These fuzzy scales also cover the butterfly’s entire body, forming a very stealthy coating. Instead of a clearly-defined meal, the bat only sees a very fuzzy outline on its sonar scope.
So the next time your child bounds after a butterfly, tell them about the pixie-dust and add some magic to their chase.
We’re surrounded by an abundance of technology, nowadays so it can sometimes be hard to imagine what it was like to look through a microscope for the very first time in the 1600s. Before the invention of the compound (multi-lensed) microscope, people believed that the world was comprised solely of what could be seen with the naked eye; it must have been overwhelming to realize what humanity had been missing! Once optical microscopy took off, scientists could finally get a detailed look at everything from well-known insects to completely new bacteria and understand how the tiny structures of a material affected its behavior.
Scientists are well-known for conducting experiments and documenting every detail of their actions. So it’s not surprising that the great analytical minds of the day began to sketch out the details of what they saw under the microscope in order to preserve the images for future reference. These images came to be known as micrographs, and they have evolved alongside the microscope in terms of their level of detail and use of technology.
Initially, micrographs were hand-drawn sketches detailing what the observer saw on the slide. One of the first known images made with a microscope was drawn by Francesco Stelluti, who published a sheet of bee anatomy in 1630. Thirty-five years later, scientist Robert Hooke wrote and published Micrographia, the first major book about microscopy. The tome detailed his observations: the eyeball of a fly, a plant cell, insect wings, and a huge fold-out engraving of a louse. Micrographia was a monumental best-seller that also coined the biological term ‘cell’ after Hooke’s famous inspection of a piece of cork.
Basic sketches remained an easy method for documenting microscopic images for many years. When photography technology caught up, people would often simply hold a standard camera up to a microscope eyepiece and take a picture; after all, the camera was designed to resemble the viewpoint of a human eye, so it made sense to try to capture the slide permanently by exposing it to film. This technique is called the afocal method’. A typical optical microscope emits parallel light rays from its source up into the ocular, so an image can be created using a camera that is made for capturing very distant objects; those lenses are designed to work with parallel light as well. The eyepieces of both the ocular and the camera must be carefully chosen to work together to capture a clear image.
The direct imaging method is far more straightforward: both the eyepiece of the microscope and the lens of the camera are removed, and the camera is placed on the microscope tube so that its shutter surface matches the primary image plane projected by the microscope. You can also purchase mechanical adapters, which attach the camera to the microscope tube directly and allow for a much clearer method of focusing. Digital photography has made micrographs much easier to produce. Modern microscopes may contain a built-in camera and USB connection, which will allow you to plug them into a computer and record images directly onto the hard drive. However, a more flexible approach is to buy a standard microscope and add an external microscope camera. That way, you can use different cameras on the same microscope and vice versa. As important, you do not need to buy an entirely new unit if the camera software fails. Whatever your method, microscope imaging, or photomicrography, has grown and changed alongside microscopy, recording humanity’s findings for future research and posterity.
You don’t have to be a science whiz to know your way around a microscope; if you completed high school science, it’s highly likely that you used a basic compound microscope to examine plant cells or the body of a flea. Perhaps you have a child who is clamoring for a microscope of their very own, or you’re a student facing a new semester of advanced science classes. Whatever your experience, it’s undeniable that microscopes are a fundamental part of the study of life sciences; they are used in a mind-bogglingly wide variety of ways across many different disciplines.
‘Microscopy’ is the study of objects that are too small to be seen with the naked eye, using a microscope to enlarge the desired image or sample. While many people can (and do) use microscopy principles every day, there are specialized microscopists who dedicate their lives to exploring the minute structures and properties of various materials. It seems like a very simple definition, but give it a little thought and you’ll realize just how multifaceted microscopy can be. In general there are three major branches of microscopy: optical, electron, and scanning probe. Each of these fields use different devices, and can accomplish very different things.
The average high school graduate is likely familiar with optical microscopy; it’s the branch that uses a series of lenses and visible light sources to magnify a sample. Your high school biology lab probably used a standard compound microscope to study cell structure. Optical microscopes can be as simple as a handheld magnifying glass; the multi-lens compound microscope was invented in the 17th century, and has been extremely useful ever since. While optical microscopy is familiar, its importance shouldn’t be downplayed; the invention of the magnifying lens resulted in a seismic shift of humanity’s understanding of the world. No one realized the multitude of creatures and materials that existed alongside us, every day, too small to see with the naked eye. Optical microscopy allowed us to see bacteria, understand cell biology, and diagnose illnesses — and it’s still widely used all over the world today.
Unfortunately, all optical microscopes have a resolving limit: a point of high magnification when the microscope just can’t resolve an image clearly. In the early 20th century, it became clear that some structures were too small to be affected by visible light sources; in these cases, scientists required a light source with a much smaller wavelength, like a beam of electrons. Electron microscopes were first patented in the 1920s; compared to the 2000x magnification power of an optical microscope, an electron microscope can achieve up to 10,000,000x. Electron microscopy is used to study crystals, cells, and large molecules. While they are expensive to build and maintain, these incredible machines have further revolutionized our understanding of the natural world.
Scanning Probe Microscopy
The third branch of basic microscopy goes beyond even the electron microscope, delving into structures at the atomic level itself. Scanning probe microscopy was developed in the 1980s, based on quantum mechanics, and its imaging power makes an electron microscope look like a pair of blurry bifocals. Scanning probe microscopy forms images by using a physical probe, which can resolve differences at levels of tenths of nanometers; at the right resolution, you can see individual atoms within a sample. This is the newest form of microscopy, and scientists are just barely discovering its potential.
As one can see, microscopy covers a huge range of disciplines, magnifications, and potential applications. Every time we’re able to clearly see the building blocks of life, we learn more about who we are as a species and how the world works. Microscopy, as a field, manages to combine many disparate themes into one streamlined, incredibly rich scientific methodology.
A microscope can change a student’s life forever and introduce your child to the smallest wonders of the world around him or her. But microscopes aren’t toys; even the simplest student-oriented device contains some very delicate parts. It’s important to learn how to handle and care for your new microscope properly, so that you can enjoy your device for years to come. Here are a few basic do’s and don’ts for two of the most important parts of a microscope: the illumination source and the lenses.
Light microscopes need a light source to illuminate the sample you are viewing. Modern microscopes typically employ tungsten, halogen or LED light bulbs. Field microscopes can employ ambient light although the first rule is never to use your microscope outside in direct sunlight as it can damage your eyes. Halogen microscope bulbs can become very hot to the touch. If you need to replace the light source, turn off the microscope first and unplug it; this will allow the bulb to cool and prevent possible electric shock. Always use the correct light bulb; different brands require different bulbs that are calibrated to work with the lenses, so trying to swap out one type for another may cause damage to the microscope. Use your microscope in a well-lit room, and always place it on a flat surface.
The lens of a microscope is the engine of the microscope. without it, your magnification efforts are futile. Compound microscopes have two types of lenses: the eyepiece, or ocular, which is what you look through; and the objective lenses, which are the primary magnifiers and are typically positioned directly above the stage on which the specimen will sit. Most compound microscopes include between three and five objective lenses that are mounted on a rotating turret. Magnification is achieved by multiplying the value of the eyepiece by that of the objective lens. For example, a 10x eyepiece and a 100x objective lens creates 1,000x magnification.
All microscope lenses are delicate and should never be touched with bare hands. If the lenses have dust or oil on them, clean with special lint free, lens tissue and a microfiber soft cloth. Neither of these will scratch the glass the way normal tissue paper would. Lenses can be damaged through improper cleaning techniques so it is important to use correct materials and if necessary. Begin by blowing away any dust using compressed dry air; there are some high-grade canned air products made specifically for optical equipment. Moisten the lens tissue with a solvent-free lens cleaning fluid and never dry wipe the glass.
Some microscopes use immersion oil, which reduces the amount of light refraction and provides a clearer image of the sample. This technique is achieved by immersing both the objective lens and the specimen slide in the oil. Always make sure to clean all of the oil from the slide and the lens once you are finished; any leftover residue can flow into the microscope casing and damage its components. Follow the instructions for oil immersion, carefully and clean all areas that have come into contact with the oil.
For many of us sand is something we warm our toes in on the beach or play with under the climbing frame in the yard. It is yellow, small, gritty and is trailed throughout the house.Yet when looked at under a high power, compound microscope, it is transformed into a myriad of different shapes and sizes and an equal number of colors of breathtaking beauty. Dr Gary Greenberg has spent a lifetime studying sand and collecting a library of images through a microscope. Here are five interesting facts from his book A Grain of Sand:
1. Sand Signature: Forensic scientists can determine exactly where a particular sand originated. In World War II, the Japanese sent over 9,000 balloon bombs to drift over the Pacific Ocean in order to bomb the US. 320 landed in Oregon, Montana and Wyoming with one actually killing six people – the only combat casualties in the continental US. US scientists subsequently pinpointed the bomb factory by analyzing the sand contained in the balloons’ ballast sandbags. Since the sand had no quartz or granite crystals typical of a continent, they surmised the sand came from an island, in this case, Japan. Second, it contained coral so was likely from north of the tropical 35th parallel. Third, and the clincher, the sand contained a rare diatom discovered by a French expedition in 1889 and only found in an area near Tokyo. The US ended balloon bombs with their own bombing raid.
2. Stars > Grains of Sand: This is hard to believe but the astronomer Carl Sagan was probably right that the number of stars outnumbers the grains of sand on the world’s beaches. Based on certain assumptions about average grain size, beach depth and length, one estimate puts the number of grains of sand at 4,800,000,000,000,000,000,000. While we can only see about 6,000 stars at night in our galaxy, the Hubble Space telescope indicates the universe contains about 130 billion galaxies. The average galaxy contains about 400,000,000,000 stars, which indicates a total of 52,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars! Of course, once you count the sands of the desert, it may be a different story!
3. Singing Sands: Speaking of deserts, some people have heard eerie sounds coming from sand, like a freight train. They were not crazy! In specific deserts such as Eureka Dunes, CA or Sand Mountain, NV there are singing or barking sands. Characterized by specific conditions including dry and spherical sand grains, these sands emit a variety of sounds. Pitch is related to the grain size and volume to the surface texture. Of course, wind is an essential driver. Some people have had to shout in order to be heard over the singing!
4. Size, Shape & Colors: Like us, every single grain of sand is unique. They come in an infinite variety of shapes and colors. They are not just a mass of yellowish stones. Take a look under a microscopes and the full iridescent glory of their coloring and shapes becomes apparent. Bright reds of garnet, the pink of coral, the green of nephrite (a form of jade) and a plethora of others including of course, yellow.
5. Sources of Sand: In spite of these manifold differences, sand originates from only three sources: Rocks, Organisms or Minerals. Rocks form mineral sands. Organisms form biogenic sands and Minerals form precipitated sands. That’s it. Such a simple origin for such a complex array of sands.
You can enjoy the delights of sand with any high power, compound microscope. Using 40x-400x will bring the individual grains of sand into sharp contrast and while you may not be able to replicate the quality of Dr Greenberg’s images, you will never look at a beach in quite the same way again.
Following my recent blog article on deer ticks @scientificamerican, a reader commented that there was no mention of the miracle of the Western Fence Swift , more commonly known as the Bluebellied Lizard. Being a Brit and having lived on the East Coast for the past 20 years, I had never heard of it before, but it is an amazing story.
Lyme disease, characterized by fever, headache, fatigue and a bullseye rash, is spread through the bite of ticks infected with the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. However in the western US, the Western Fence Swift actually cleanses the tick of the bacteria. Apparently, the swift has a protein that kills Borrelia burgdorferi as it feeds on the swift’s blood.
Since 90% of nymph ticks feed on the lizard, it has always been assumed that the presence of the fence swift has accounted for the lower incidence of Lyme Disease in the western states. Unfortunately, over the past few years the numbers of western fence swift have been declining. As a result, the concern has been that there would be a corresponding increase in Lyme disease infections. However, a 2011 UC Berkeley study found that 95% of nymph ticks failed to find another host and presumably died. Such is the complexity of Nature and disease.
Look out for our new touch screen, OptixCam EZVU-2 tablet microscope camera. It will be ready for shipping in May 2013 and is an exciting addition to the OptixCam range of microscope cameras.It will work on any compound or stereo microscope with an appropriate adapter.
The EZVU-2 is a 2 megapixel digital microscope camera with integrated 8″ LCD tablet. Complete with touch screen and vibrant color resolution (1024 x 768 pixels), it has a hefty 5GB of internal storage and flexible output direct to the LCD screen, via HDMI cable to TV( or monitor), via the mini or standard USB ports to your computer or you can store images on the 2GB included microSD card.
In other words, while it operates on the Android OS, it is ‘computer agnostic’ in the sense that you can transfer images to either PC or Mac computers. The Android OS gives it both a touch screen and the ability to use a computer mouse. We recommend the latter when executing sensitive measurements in order to reduce any vibration caused by screen touch.
A Launch Alert will follow when we have a specific shipping date. In the meantime, please share this news with your colleagues.
For the past 5 years or so, we have been supporting American beekeepers by sponsoring a microscopy course at the Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS) meeting. In addition, we have a Special Offer for beekeepers in the form of the high power, compound microscope Omano OM36. Last week, we wrote a blog article for Scientific American on microscopy and bees called “Bees Under the Microscope”, which covered the uses of microscopes in beekeeping.
In writing the article I learnt two things. First, a new word: Melissopalynology or the study of honey and second, that microscopic images of honey pollen can be stunningly beautiful. Gretchen D. Jones, Ph.D, of the United States Department of Agriculture Research Science, Area-wide Pest Management Research Unit is an expert in melissopalynology….and as this picture evidences clearly of photomicrography as well!
Beyond that, the article also addressed how few beekeepers actually use a microscope in spite of their immediate benefits. Most beekeepers are unable to diagnose any hive infection until it is self-evident and many apparently treat their colonies with heavy doses of antibiotics just in case they are infected! Yet they are all puzzled by the crisis of colony collapse disorder that faces the honey bee throughout the world.
Please read the full article and share it.
Like many, if not all Internet retailers, we are bound to use Amazon as an alternate channel to reach our customers. As of the past few weeks, we have also started using Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) for microscopes because increasingly, it is a requirement in order to maintain any possibility of achieving the so-called Buy Box and therefore, of achieving any sales off Amazon.
What concerns me is that more people are using Amazon as the default online shopping option as opposed to visiting the underlying Internet retailer. Nowadays, the niche retailer must offer comparable pricing to Amazon so the primary difference lies in the speed of shipping and the trust in the respective brands. No one….no one can compete with Amazon’s logistic and distribution capabilities. Witness their increasing same day shipping capability.
But what is the cost of using Amazon as the default shopping and shipping option?
The easy answer is 12-15% average fees paid to Amazon on any given sale. Every time, you purchase one of our microscopes off Amazon instead of off our website, we incur an average fee cost of 12-15%. While this is a small amount of our overall business, for many Internet retailers, these fees are likely to reduce their profits to the point where they will go out of business. They will cease to exist especially as once they reach a given size, Amazon is likely to start selling the same products direct themselves. Think of the number of small-mid size jobs that will be lost due to this inexorable outcome?
The less drastic outcome, but nevertheless still a cost, is the loss of niche expertise, advice and service. For example, many Dino-Lite vendors on Amazon are not in any sense microscope retailers. They sell a multitude of different products. By using Amazon FBA, they (and by necessity, we) are able to deliver the product within one to two days at no extra cost to the Amazon prime customer. It is possible that if enough Dino-Lite sales are diverted through Amazon, as opposed to being bought off our Microscope.com website, we would cease to offer Dino-Lite microscopes in the same way that we currently do. We would probably be unable to justify the high level of personal service and advice we dedicate to each customer in order to ensure they purchase the appropriate product for their application. This is a direct cost to the customer. The loss of expertise.
Similarly, service suffers in another way. Have you noticed how all the rave reviews on Amazon relate to post sales service where the customer has had a problem? It seems to me that the great American consumer is reducing ‘good service’ to the lowest common denominator of how well did the company clean up the mess? This is a sad state of affairs when we lower our standards to such a reduced concept of customer service.
Finally, the inexorable rise of Amazon (and if you do not believe me, take a look at this excellent summary by faberNovel http://goo.gl/Ntmti) will create not just less choice, but it is entirely possible that more of your life than you ever thought possible will be controlled – more accurately, monopolized – by Amazon in one way or another. There are those people who are already suspicious of Google. There is a growing awareness and aversion to their all-knowing capability of your life and lifestyle. I suggest, however, that Google is a neophyte compared to Amazon.
Amazon has won our hearts and wallets by the simple expedient of providing what we want across an increasing number of product and service areas. In this it has executed on a brilliant and visionary strategy for which Jeff Bezos will go down in history as a quite extraordinary innovator. However, if you start to consider as long term into the future as he does, I think you will begin to see the scary side of the equation. You will not have any choice.
Beetlemania by Microscope
The next time you go for a walk in the woods, keep an eye out for one of Mother Nature’s most stunning samples of entomology, the two-inch long Dynastes Tityus, otherwise known as the Eastern Hercules beetle.
Quite an imposing member of the Rhinoceros species, the Eastern Hercules is aptly named for the prominent horns found on the male beetles. At first glance, they come across like something straight out of a science fiction movie, especially the males, whose forceps-like horns alone can stretch a couple of inches. According to Tom Kuhar, Associate Professor of Entomology at Virginia Tech, the Eastern Hercules beetle is the largest scarab beetle in the United States. When you find one, it’ll make for quite an entertaining tale. After all, it isn’t every day you meet up with a bug as big as your hand!
While these little gargantuans may look fierce and menacing, they are actually quite peaceful and reclusive, preferring to spend their lives chewing their way through the rotting bark of various fallen hardwoods like oak and pine trees or compost on the forest floor. They’ve even been known to set up semi-permanent home nesting sites in the heartwood of crumbling logs, where generation after generation of Eastern Hercules larvae dine on rotten wood delicacies.
A native of the rainforests in Central America, the Eastern Hercules beetle’s U.S. habitat stretches from the Florida Keys through the southern states, north to Lake Michigan and west to the Arizona desert. But you have to throw in a bit of luck in order to see one. They have a lifespan of just 12-16 months and only the last 3-4 months are spent above ground as an adult.
We were fortunate enough to find this female ambling along the woods outside our warehouse. The images of the female depicted above, were captured by a Dino-Lite AD4113T handheld digital microscope camera from our lab. She was an amicable model and kept crawling toward the ring of bright LED lights in the nose of the microscope. It is a quite fitting testament to today’s technology really, that a beetle as big as your hand can be photographed by a microscope as small as your hand. Beetlemania by microscope indeed!
Harvard has done it again! This time scientists in the laboratory of Federico Capasso at Harvard’s Schoolof Engineeringhave designed an innovative flat lens made of gold. No more than 1,000th the width of a human hair, it focuses light via antennae as opposed to refraction required of a glass lens.
By adjusting the length and angles of the antennae, the lens can create different amplitudes and phases. Each concentric ring of antennae can then be adjusted to achieve the desired focal length. In other words, there should be no need for glass lenses and all the complexity and bulk required for achromatic correction.
Happily for microscope retailers, this new lens is currently only optimized for near-infrared light of a single wavelength used in telecommunications……but one day it will undoubtedly revolutionize light microscopy not to mention cameras and other optical systems that currently employ glass lenses.