The Stereo Microscope
Why every child from 5 to 95 needs a stereo microscope
In the middle of October as I write this, the mid‑afternoon temperature in Draper, Utah is 63 degrees; low last night was 57. A couple of weeks ago there was morning frost in my garden, but then came another tease from the end of summer that brought some very warm, sunny days. I love this time of year for so many reasons, not the least of which is harvesting fall vegetable greens from my backyard raised garden bed.
I had intended to write today about microgreens and how to grow them (it will be my next post!)…until I went to the garden to harvest some more lettuce and spinach for salad with a friend and found THESE little buggers…ALL. OVER. MY. GREENS!!
Yes, it’s true: APHIDS, in all their miniscule animalistic glory, just resting on their laurels like a bunch of naked, engorged, six‑legged Greek gods with their little sucking parts embedded in MY salad, as if I had planted, coddled, and loved on those growing plants just for the eventual enjoyment of a bunch of no‑good insects. I’m determined to avoid using insecticides on my food at all costs, but I’m not falling for the old “they’re all protein” nonsense that some people think is just REALLY funny.
You see, I know better than to eat these protein‑packed‑or‑not little uglies. (By the way, I just found out that northern Utah is having an aphid infestation of Biblical locust proportions. It’s true, because the guys on the KSL Greenhouse radio program said so on Saturday.) I decided to get right down to these little creepers’ level, investigate closer and see just what they were up to‑‑which I can do because…drum roll…I have a STEREO MICROSCOPE!
Isn’t it a beauty? I bought this last year from AmScopes, an online microscope superstore that has so many microscopes, your head and all its billions of cells will swim. This one had a price tag under $200‑‑a very nice quality scope for the money.
What you get to do with a stereo microscope is no less than engrossingly amazing: 3D viewing of actively swimming teeny pond creatures, pinhead‑sized insects that become giants, salt crystals that pop out of nowhere right before your eyes as a warm drop of salt water cools, garden soil that you discover is teeming with teeny critters, both live and dead; and, of course…the salad‑sucking aphids that love to show up in the fall, multiply like rabbits, and steal your lunch.
Take a peek again at the aphid‑infested leaf photo above, and try not to be grossed out. (Remember, it is rumored that they’re all protein, if that helps you. Doesn’t help me.) This is the back of a spinach leaf with a couple of chummy aphids magnified at 10x. To the naked eye, they’re just itty‑bitty green specks about the size of a pinhead, but zoom in and you see that the specks have legs, antennae‑looking things in front and two skinny stick-like things coming out the backside (I’m not even going to try using anatomically correct descriptions here, if you don’t mind), and eyeballs.
Wait…eyeballs? Eyeballs upon eyeballs upon eyeballs…aphids have COMPOUND EYES just like flies do! Did you know that? I sure didn’t until I zoomed in to 40x. You’ll have to take my word for this, or come to my house and see for yourself. While my iPhone can take some pretty awesome pictures through one of the eyepieces, it doesn’t clearly capture the individual micro‑eyeballs in the compound eye that you can see in a 3D image when looking through two lenses. Think of the old View‑Master toys from your childhood, only now with endless possibilities of what you can choose to gaze upon. This is why you need to get one of these microscopes for your kids‑‑of ALL ages!
If I have a microscope geek party at my house, do you think anyone would come? I’ve been in love with this small‑world business since I got my first microscope for Christmas in the fifth grade, which solidified my fascination for tiny things from that point forward. But that was a monocular (one‑eyed) microscope; and the world of two‑dimensional microscopy, while amazing, may not hold a kid’s attention as well and with as much fun as a 3D microscope that is just plain captivating to engage with, lends itself to letting kids spend hours exploring everyday objects, food they eat (take a close look at chia seeds magnified 20 times!), bugs, you name it. Want them to wash their hands better? Put their little grubbies under the scope and let them see what got missed under the tap!
I’d like to share one more thing I looked at today. You know those little white “butterflies” (actually little moths) that flit around the garden all summer long? Well, turn some leaves over and you might find these teeny white specks that are actually eggs that have been laid by these moths. Teeny worms will hatch from them and actually burrow INSIDE the leaves, leaving trails that look like this. (Are you beginning to understand why you really do need a stereo microscope?)
You saw at the top of this article how little the eggs are compared to my finger. Now, here they are at about 80x magnification! (Accomplished by shooting a picture with the 40x lens and then zooming in on the photo.) Aren’t you brokenhearted now, seeing what you’ve been missing out on for all these years?
I hope you take seriously my challenge to purchase a stereo microscope. Christmas is only two months away, and you don’t have to spend a bundle for a microscope to enjoy some happy viewing. AmScopes has some decent ones from $50 up. A couple of features I strongly recommend:
LED lights, both top and bottom, to keep your bugs alive and happy longer. Regular bulbs get hot quickly, and your little critters will die of heatstroke just as you’re getting to the fun part.
Both AC and a rechargeable internal battery so you can take the contraption into the wilderness without needing electricity.
Very nice to have, more fun to use, but more pricey: A zoom lens.
Here is my exact microscope that I am very happy with, available from AmScope.com:
What can you imagine exploring with kids under your stereo microscope?