Monday, February 3, 2014

Fingerprints and Hair

Sorry folks, this is going to be a short one of some pretty common stuff. Due to having to some issues with the brakes on my car, a ski race, and actual work, I didn't have a lot of time to get things together this week. So, you're going to have to just check out the images this week, with very limited useless commentary from me.

That being said, today's subjects are two strands of hair, and part of my finger (unfortunately as much as I actually really wanted to, I did not cut off a chunk of my skin to look at in the SEM, so light microscope images will have to suffice for the finger print stuff).

Not surprisingly, I found out that it was fairly difficult to hold my hand still enough to get a decent focus at
high mag.

On to some hair, like most of the stuff I've done so far, there are plenty of photos of this on the internet. Actually WAY more than I thought there would be. Here's a WebMD article about hair loss that explains how hair works, so I don't have to.

Here's where the hair comes out of the follicle, which is under the skin. And that's all I'm going to explain, because it is seriously way more complicated than I thought it would be. Read that article if you care. Either way, neat to look at.

Coming up, SEM images of hair. First, the intersection of the hair shaft with the follicle. Again, just read that article if you're wondering what's going on there. Then just some typical shots.

So, if I remember from the shampoo commercials I've seen, I have pretty healthy hair. Its not all rough, with the scales splayed out. Unfortunately for the blog, I guess I don't have split ends, so maybe I'll have
to revisit that another time.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Greetings! Last weekend I had the good fortune of being able to meet up with Blake Larson, who had some honeycomb and dead bees for me to look at. So with this week's installment, I have to give a special shout out to Blake for hauling about 20 dead bees and a chunk of honeycomb from St Louis to Ames.

While you're looking at these pictures thinking "I can find a million way better pictures of bees on google images," remember that I'm doing this blog for fun, so quit complaining. And I bet you never thought to look up high mag images of bees, so here are a few to get you started.

Also you may notice that a lot of the bee images on google are in color, much better quality, and possibly higher magnification. This is because most of those bees didn't drive from St Louis to Ames, IA to Minneapolis in a plastic bag with 15 other dead bees. They probably had someone who knows how to prepare bees for SEM imaging (i.e. not me) and also knows how to add color to black and white images (i.e. also not me).

Well, folks, you get what you pay for. Enjoy!

First up, bee eye. The bee eye and the honeycomb (which was not interesting at all at high mag, unfortunately) are both made of small hexagons...coincidence? Side bar: all but one of my posts have now somehow included hexagons...weird.

Zoom in, ENHANCE! Aren't you glad you don't have tiny little hair coming out of your eyes?

Ugh, I just noticed that lighter rectangle in the center-right of the image, sorry. 1,000,000 bonus points to anyone who can tell me why that rectangle is there.

The wings are really interesting. Bee wings don't flap in a conventional "fixed wing" motion. This apparently created some confusion among early scientists, who thought that that bee flight was aerodynamically impossible due to the relatively small size of the wings compared to the body. They also have special muscles that allow them to flap their wings ~200 times per second. COOL!

Here is a video of some slo mo bee flight

In 5 minutes of internet searching, I was not able to find any reputable facts about why these hairs (that's what I'm calling them anyway) exist. If any of my entomologist friends know for sure, I'd love to hear.

Random Bonus Image! Guess what it is, and you get the satisfaction of knowing that you're better than everyone else at guessing what random objects look like at high magnification.

Hint: It is not part of a bee.

Thanks for reading, stay warm out there!
(another fun fact: during the winter, bees vibrate their flight muscles without moving their wings to stay warm)

Monday, January 20, 2014

LCD Screens!

Right, let's see if I can get this out while it is still technically Monday (In the US, that is. I don't think I've really caught on overseas yet).

I was going to do a golf ball this week, but as it turns out a golf ball is not particularly interesting, and there is ample documentation of what the inside of golf balls look like out there in internet land. So, I turned to an easy second choice, LCD screens (there are also plenty of photos of this on the internet, but I took these, so they're better).

Here's a low mag image of the google maps icon on my phone. 

At low mag you can somewhat start to see the individual pixels. This is pretty common knowledge, I think, but each pixel is actually composed of a blue, red, and green subpixel. This terminology is apparently not very standardized, but that makes sense to me.

Increasing the mag revealed something kind of interesting - each subpixel is sort of an O shape. This is a Samsung Transform Ultra phone, by the way. It looks like I forgot to upload the Iphone photos, but if you google "Iphone LCD screen pixels", you should find something...

I'm wasn't able to come up with much about the O shaped subpixels and the other screens I looked at have solid pixels, which makes a lot more sense to me. The screen for a Canon point and shoot camera is shown below (different mag, so don't compare pixel size without taking the scale bar into account). The chevron orientation of the subpixels increases the allowable viewing angle of the screen somehow. There's a paper out there explaining how, but it was way over my head, sorry folks.

Now since my job is in failure analysis I'm going to include a bonus image of two intersecting scratches in the glass on my phone that I took while I was looking at the screens, because I think it looks awesome. Someone requested broken glass, so that might be on the horizon here soon.

That'll do it for this week, I got some honeycomb and dead bees from a beekeeper friend of mine, so hopefully I'll find something interesting there. As always, suggestions are welcome. Peace.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Credit Card Magstripe Hologram

Last week I got a request to check out a credit card magnetic stripe. Well, Monday is here, and that means it's time to share what I found.

Credit cards store data via localized polarization of the magnetic domains in the magnetic strip. The strip is actually composed of two or three separate "tracks." The tracks each contain the primary account number, service code, expiration date, and PIN information, so that the card can remain functional even if one of the tracks is damaged. For some reason tracks 1 and 3 have a higher recording density, so they put some additional information on those tracks (name, country code, etc.).

From a visual standpoint, the typical credit card mag strip is not particularly interesting. The magnetic domains can be visualized, but not with any equipment that is readily available to me. It's pretty much just a brown strip of tape. Luckily my Discover card has a hologram over the magnetic strip, so I got some cool images of that.

By the true definition of the word, these are not actually holograms, but everyone seems to call them that, so I guess I'll stick with it. I wish knew more about the printing process for these "holograms," but the 30 minutes of internet research I'm allowing myself to dedicate to this blog right now did not come up with anything I'm willing to be quoted on.

Fun Fact: This card is now cut up and in a trash can in Santa Monica where I was playing ultimate this weekend. I guess someone apparently tried to buy groceries with my information in Chicago on Saturday. Still not quite sure how that happened... Anyway here are a few of the more interesting images I got out of it before that.

Image magnifications are 10X, 10X, 33X, and 200X respectively. The scale bar in the lower right should give you an idea of how big the features are, the units are millimeters (mm) and micrometers (um). For reference human hair ranges from about 50 - 100 um.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

First Installment

This blog is called "Microscope Monday," but I wanted to get this blog thing off the ground before next Monday since I have no idea what I'm doing. So this is a test post [please ignore], and is a repeat of a week ago, more or less.

I recently came into possession of one of the new $100 bills. The hologram looked neat, so I decided to check it out (technically I guess this was the inspiration for MM). You can see the cotton fibers in the "currency paper" as well as some of the blue ink in first image. The hologram strip is actually woven into the paper, which I can't imagine is a terribly simple process. The hologram strip itself is apparently composed of a bunch of small (~30 micron) hexagons. Also, I'm not sure if this is technically a "hologram," but that's what I'm calling it now.

At this juncture I'm not really sure what direction I wan't to go with this blog. I enjoy seeing this kind of stuff, and I like learning about it, too. There are so many options for the content, I'm getting ahead of myself with what I'm planning for the coming weeks. That being said, I am definitely still entertaining requests.

If anyone actually reads I'd be curious to know if people are more interested in additional background information about whatever it is I'm looking at that day or the imaging methods, I think I could certainly include more informational content on top of the images...but I guess I'll wait and see how this plays out, I'm going to have fun either way.

Also, expect the format and presentation to improve over time, I have no idea whats going on with these "blogs."

Anyway, here are a couple images of the $100 bill hologram strip. Again, sorry about the formatting.