Friday, February 09, 2007


I thought about posting on a couple things today: the gay NBA player (why couldn’t he have been a more valuable player? :-)), or Larry Miller’s regret for pulling Brokeback Mountain from his theaters, or Buttars' putting teath back into the GSA bill... But I’m a bit tired of such for some reason, and, besides, I’m getting low on images :-).

If it’s not clear, each post I try to put up some, often-enhanced image taken from my microscope. It’s a limited, modest model I bought for our home. I’ve used it for research a couple times, when I’ve wanted to work from home, but mainly it’s there for my amusement, and now as a teaching tool for the boys.

I like the symbolism, for one thing. You know, examining the minutia, focusing in… And also that my troubles and fights are all really small, in time and space, and relative to many more lives. I do have it very good from such perspective and I hope to keep that in mind when I’m bi*beep*ing :-).

There is an ego-numbing awe-inspiring beauty to be found at every scale it seems, and some of my favorites are found in the incredibly tiny. I used to use my lunch at one place to take SEM images of insects and pollen. I’d rather be hungry and have such a sight. Anyway, I hope others feel similarly, and forgive some naked posts until I find time to sit down with the microscope again (It ain’t that easy in the winter to find new things to image, once you’ve gone through the kitchen :-)).

For this post, though, I’ll include the smallest sculpture I’ve ever made:

It’s an AFM image of a polymer film I had deposited on glass; the scale of the images is about that of a red blood cell. Simplified, the AFM (atomic force microscope) uses a tiny tip on a tiny cantilever that bounces across a surface, like a needle on a record player. The angle at which this cantilever is deflected by the surface causes a laser to reflect off the top of the cantilever at different angles to strike a sensor, which results in a voltage that can be translated into a physical distance.

I was hoping to repeat another’s work and pull strands of polymer up like little threads to measure the forces involved (didn’t work out in the end). But we weren’t even sure at first if we were hitting the right surface. The force curve looked all-wrong, compared to the literature. But as I was using the tip to both image and poke the surface, I couldn’t see what I was doing while I was doing it, but every now and then, when scanning, I could see these little hills that I thought I may have made.

At that I decided to draw a little design, so that I could see if I was indeed making those hills despite the force curve being "wrong". It was, of course, a hexagon with a dot in the middle. I programmed the AFM, and it made its 7 blind stabs at the surface. I then scanned the sample and there was my little design; seems I was hitting the surface and forcing these tiny pits and mountains into the film, and the film was probably there… or it was just a coincidence ;-).

I don’t know why, such just strikes me as beautiful.


Paul said...

I'm glad you're having fun with the images. Of course, this discussion went right over my head.

-L- said...

I love your images and I've frequently wanted to ask you about them. I've got a set of my confocal microscopy images that are really stunningly beautiful (I like fluorescent colors on a black background, apparently), but I just don't think they'd suit my blog. :-)

Scot said...

I know what you mean, L; they can be a bit stark, but if I don’t like the color I change it in Photoshop (Not that I’d recommend such for publication on something more serious than a blog ;-)). I just take the images on the blog from things I find around the home in a simple light microscope; those from work are kind of bland (the particles in my title up there) or just look like noise.

And don’t let the jargon fool you Paul; it’s just a tool of job security. The image on this post was basically found by taking a tiny nail on a tiny 2X4 and using that to feel and deform the surface of a bowl of spaghetti :-).