Sunday, September 23, 2012

OBJECT #17: Little black magnifier

    I actually used this object just two days ago.  I was too lazy to get out my large stereo-microscope (which itself qualifies as junk in my basement because it’s just a secondhand scope from ebay) so I grabbed one of these.  I wanted to look at the tiny flowers on a plantain weed.  The weed has a fuzzy spire that I was pretty sure had to be flower spire in botanical terms.  I reasoned that the flowers must be so small that you could hardly see them without a magnifier.  So I grabbed one of these, switched on the light, and held the plantain under it.  I was amazed to see tiny purple and yellow flowers hanging at the ends of impossibly thin stalks.  One of the many examples of the amazing biology that we take for granted every day, often even unaware of its existence.

    If you’ve looked at these inexpensive magnifiers in a catalog and wondered if they are worth the 12-15 dollar price tag, the answer is “yes,” they actually give pretty good magnification.  You can get up to 30x magnification with them, which is way beyond your standard hand lens (3x to 8x).  If you can’t afford a large stereo-microscope (even a cheap one is over $100) then this is a great little alternative.  I would not recommend them for kids under 8 or 9, however, because it takes a bit of coordination to get things lined up and in focus.  I had to be a bit patient with my plantain flowers.  The only drawback with these is that the viewing area is pretty small.  But if you want to look at a sand grain or an insect eye or a miniature plantain flower, these will let you see some of the beautiful of creation you would miss otherwise.

Plantain Flower

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