I bought my daughters, ages 7 and 9, a fairly decent microscope for Christmas last year, and I'm pretty sure that since then, I've used it just as much as they have. My oldest daughter is really into science and math and we've had a great time exploring the world of the microscopic. Microscopes turn everyday things like table salt and Velcro into otherworldly landscapes full of massive crystal blocks and fields of black twisted trunks thrust into the air. Besides being an invaluable tool in scientific fields too numerous to mention, microscopes are great for expanding a person's perspective on the world. It's a well-rounded person who has at least some basic concepts of the scale of the universe — from the smallest quarks through the enormity of the observable universe.
In that spirit, I've rounded up* some great examples of what some normal everyday things look like really close up. (*Note: The writer did not take these photos, to clarify the discussion in the comments section.)
Pollen is basically a carrier for dried plant sperm, released into the air in the evolutionary hope that it will settle on another plant of the same species looking for some male seed. Individual pollen grains are tiny enough to be picked up and transported by the wind and are the main cause of seasonal hay fever. The structure of the pollen grain shown in this photo is fascinating and shows a beautiful natural form built around the organic efficiency of natural design.
Face of a butterfly
There's nothing like spending a nice summer day outside in nature and having a butterfly alight on your should for a visit. There is something magical about the fluttering insects that are not only beautiful to behold but that also play an important role in plant pollination. This crazy microscopic photo of a butterfly face shows that their comely looks scales all the way down. Though it certainly looks alien, I think the feathery fringes around its face give it a dignified beauty. And just look at those compound eyes!
Photo: BASF - The Chemical Company/flickr
Spandex is one of those common everyday objects that maybe should be a little less common and everyday. The stretchy synthetic fabric was first developed in the late 1950s by chemists at Dupont and has been adopted by the clothing industry for use in sports apparel, undergarments and wet suits. Spandex fibers look pretty much exactly as you'd expect them to when seen under extreme magnification.
Snowflakes are formed high in the atmosphere when supercooled water droplets form around microscopic impurities like dust. Once the initial ice crystal forms, the rest of the flake quickly blossoms from the center, pulling more vapor from the cloud to construct delicate and intricate arms, spindles and fingers. The structure of the final flake mainly depends on the temperature and humidity in the surrounding air. Snowflakes were first put under the microscope in the 1880s and have been photographed here beautifully by a scanning electron microscope.
Dogs are great. No other animal loves people as purely and unconditionally as our friend Canis lupus familiaris. According to the Humane Society, there are about 80 million dogs in the U.S. (cats have a slight edge with a U.S. population of just over 85 million). There's a lot of dog hair shedding off all those pups, which invariably ends up on our couches, rugs, work pants, and clogging up our collective vacuum cleaners. Besides piling up on our furniture and clothing, dog hair and its attendant dander can play havoc with the sinuses of those unfortunate enough to be allergic.