Art and Observation at Microscopic Scale

Earlier this spring, Michigan State held its annual Science Festival, which is a multi-week event with lectures and workshops around (what else?) science in the area! As I’ve mentioned before, I’m more of an artist than a scientist, as least in terms of the product of my work as a writer and as the founder…

Kellogg Biological Station

Last weekend a colleague of mine invited me to give a guest lecture for her summer class in evironmental and science writing at the Kellogg Biological Station. KBS is a research center built on the former estate of the Kellogg family (yes, the cereal people). It’s primary features are a campus of labs and greenhouses,…

Bee Hotel

Today, my partner and I took advantage of some perfect weather and a day off to walk around one of MSU’s gardens and enjoy some nature curated and cultivated in a human aesthetic. As an agricultural school, Michigan State has any number of gardens to sit in and read, and for today’s garden, we’re sitting…

The Great Blue Whale

“…even stripped of these supernatural surmisings, there was enough in the earthly make and incontestable character of the monster to strike the imagination with unwonted power. For, it was not so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other sperm whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out- a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead,…

Imagining a Divergent Path

  The volvox might be the most exciting bit of algae I’ve ever looked at.  Tumbling through a sample of pond water collected from the surface in the morning, the volvox looks like a creature devised from the mind of a minimalist painter. A simple ball of green dots with some splotches of green dabbed…

Accidental Motion

I’ve noticed a few things about rotifers in the last couple of weeks. One is that I tend to find the colonial varieties in the deeper waters of the lakes I hunt in, while along the shore, I tend to find motile individuals. So, for example, I have never found anything like this Conochilus colony…

Identifying as a Detective

I’m on a rotifer kick at the moment.  Just this week, I nabbed a video of this little one clinging to a diatom rich piece of hornwort (the underwater plant to beat in my current hunting grounds): A challenge that keeps coming with each new find is how to identify the creatures I’m seeing.  With…

Brand New Colonies

A few weeks ago, I noted my surprise at finding that what seemed to be a cluster of dancing raisins in my pond water sample was actually a colony of rotifers growing around a bit of algae. Since then, I’ve turned my attention to a larger lake in a nearby county park called Hawk Island…

Human Cultivated Nature

As I may have mentioned in other posts, I recently moved away from my urban life in Brooklyn to a more quiet (if no less human built) existence in Lansing, Michigan. Hence, my lack of posts in the last couple of months. Yesterday, though, enough was enough. While walking on MSU’s campus, (and while, coincidentally…

In the Surf

As summer days get hotter in NYC, I’ve been less interested in sitting out in the sun and dropping a net in the water, and much more interested in jumping into the water myself. This raised an interesting question for me. Is there a way to use my plankton net in the surf, since the…

How to Build a Plankton Net

Although one of the best things about our explorations with the Foldscope is that you can pretty much find your subjects anywhere you look, occasionally it is helpful, when looking for specific groups of critters, to build a little bit of extra equipment to help you along the way. One of these that I have…

In the Drought

July has been a month of tremendous change. Apart from the usual shifts that come with a change of seasons, from the floral growth spurt of the spring into the heat and energy grab of the summer, I have also left my old stomping grounds in Brooklyn and moved to Michigan. The shift is a…

Gone Fishing

Since I’ve been busy writing and getting ready for a big move, it has been a while since I’ve had the chance to visit the microcosmos, but a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to head down to New Jersey to visit my parents and spend a few days fishing. Naturally, fishing for…

Plankton at Gantry State Park

After a long cold snap at the end of the winter, and a pretty rainy spring, this week has finally brought in some sunny and warm days. I happen to be on spring break this week from one of the institutions I call home, so I took the time off to go fishing.  It’s not…

Time Lapse

This post doesn’t feature any images taken with a Foldscope, but it’s part of an area of interest I came to as a result of our microcosmic investigations. As with the environment itself, it’s sometimes helpful to see the kinds of scientific investigation we do with the microscopes as part of a larger observation of…

Barnacle Cyprid

Such a lucky evening, I had to post twice. While doing a flashlight run of the critters in the seaweed, I found this crawling around on the surface. Without question, it’s a barnacle cyprid looking for a place to settle down and call home. Back into the water it goes to continue its search, but…

St. Patrick’s Hunt

I’m on spring break at the moment from one of the schools I teach at, and with the weather warming, the sun coming out a bit after a cold February (the only real winter we’ve had this season), I took the opportunity yesterday to spend a little time down at the beach. It’s not the…

Driftwood

After a couple of weeks living with me, the barnacles and the limpets were starting to look a little peaked, so I decided it was time to bring them back to the water to live out their lives. Granted, these are Pacific barnacles I have returned to the Atlantic, but with a breeding population of…

Valentine’s Epilogue

A brief update on the Atlantic/Pacific post. I noticed this afternoon that the barnacles all seemed especially active. One pair in particular seemed to be vigorously churning the water around them, one spitting out more than it seemed to consume. I assumed what I was watching was barnacle’s mating, that each was pouring gametes into…

Atlantic/Pacific

Piggybacking off of my last experiment, I decided to see what else was living on the oysters. The oyster place near my home has an oyster happy hour every weekday in which they are offered cheap. They didn’t blink when I asked them to serve the oysters with both shells and only looked at me…

Darwin’s Barnacles

As the weather finally gets a bit colder, I find myself drawn away from the water itself and more toward indoor places where I can grab a quick drink and a bite to eat. Recently, I ordered some oysters at a favorite bar where the oysters come straight from the left coast. Aside from the…

The Clam Shrimp

In the early summer, my favorite hunting ground for new creatures to look at was the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Although it is a constructed space, an artificial nature in the city, I found the creeks and the puddles, and even a knot in a tree, teeming with life. The usual bugs and ciliates and copepods,…

Rot in Action

As things progress in the marine habitat, as creatures settle in and pass on, I’m starting to turn my attention away from the free floating citizens of the jar and toward the benthic residents on the ground (though I suspect all of my residents are technically benthic, since they come from a tidal pool). As…

Nudibranch Egg Development

When the nudibranch in my tidal pool jar began laying eggs on the surface of the water and elsewhere in the tank, there was some question about whether they would be viable. I saw in a few of the eggs what I took to be cell division, as in the shot below where we can…

What is It?

The small self-contained marine ecosystem living on my desk continues to thrive. It currently occupies two tanks–one for the nudibranch eggs (and subsequent larvae…more on that in a few days) and one for everyone else. The reasoning for keeping larvae and all other separate is simple: nudibranchs have a reputation as marine aquarium killers, and…

Why, as an Artist, I’m Excited about the Foldscope

A few weeks back Saad posted an essay titled “As a Scientist, Why I’m Excited about the Foldscope,” which talked about the value of the Foldscope as a tool for science, including papers written about it. Saad’s post sort of bounced off of some thoughts I’ve had for a while about my own use of…

In DUMBO

If, while in Brooklyn, you head west, back toward Manhattan, and continue in that direction down a long hill, until you are in the narrow wedge between the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll find you are in a neighborhood called DUMBO. I offer up this fun bit of New York trivia you can…

A Model Creature: A Complete Drosophila Life Cycle

There is a question I feel I need to ask at the beginning of this post about how people choose which life to value. Why culturally people may eat one animal but not another, why an animal may be considered a pest or not. Why animal life may be better perceived over the lives of…

Identification Requests

During my plankton grab in St. Simon this year, I had so many different kinds of plankton to observe. Some, like the crab larvae, I could identify by sight. Some I needed to do a bit of research on. The exact species of this bristle worm, for example, is something of a mystery to me,…