Albatross bolus contents & Foldscope light source tips

After my last post, I started mulling over ways I could improve my Foldscope technique. Working with two cellphones allowed me to snap pictures, but the overall process was a bit finicky. I would turn the flashlight on one phone, placed it so the light beamed upwards, put the Foldscope so that the lens aligned perfectly over the flashlight, and finalized the cellphone and Foldscope sandwich by putting the lens of my second cellphone over the eyepiece of the Foldscope lens. This setup was prone to slipping and sliding around. If I was looking at something through the Foldscope and I slightly nudged the light-providing phone, the Foldscope stage would move. It wasn’t stable, and that affected my ability to snap clear pictures. The magnetic strips provided some form of stability, but I wanted a more rigid setup.

A few days ago during my lunch break, I decided to work on figuring out a Foldscope stability solution. I knew I wanted to come up with a solution that combined a light source and a base upon which I could place my Foldscope. I looked around and tried to see if I could use any ordinary office materials to “hack” a solution. After a few moments of brainstorming, I saw a light bulb. Literally.

I had never used the lamp on the desk. Even though it is an inanimate object, it looked a little sad just sitting there on my desk. In the picture I took of it to share with you, the lamp looks sad. I tried angling it and making it look groovy, but nope. The sad aura lingered.

My (sad) office desk lamp.
My (sad) office desk lamp.

This sad little lamp could provide a solution to my Foldscope stability dilemma. The gooseneck allowed me to bend the shade of the lamp in multiple directions. If I bent it around so that the opening of the shade and the bulb pointed to me, I could build a base that upon which I could rest my Foldscope. The bulb of the lamp would be the light source.

I  decided to make a paper base with a hole in the center. The paper would serve as the surface where I would place my Foldscope; the hole in the center of the paper would allow light to reach my viewing stage. Below, I share the steps I took to create my lamp setup.

First, I placed a piece of black construction paper under the lampshade.

Lampshade directly placed against a piece of black construction paper.
Lampshade directly placed against a piece of black construction paper.

I traced the circumference of the lampshade using a pencil. My goal was to cut out a circle of paper the exact circumference of the shade opening. Doing so ensured that the paper viewing base would fit flush with the opening.

Tracing time!

Final traced circle.
Final traced circle.

After tracing the shade circumference, I cut a hole out of the of the center of the paper circle. I used a random little container I found in the office as a guide. This allows some light to radiate from the lamp. Think of this as a big scale version of the flashlight on your phone.

Tracing another circle into the center of the paper circle.
Tracing another circle into the center of the paper circle.

After tracing the inner circle for the hole, I cut it out using scissors.

I folded the circle in half so I could cut out the inner circle with ease.
I folded the circle in half so I could cut out the inner circle with ease.
Completed product! A doughnut-shaped paper cutout.
Completed product! A doughnut-shaped paper cutout.

After creating my paper “doughnut” platform, I attached it to the lampshade.

I adjusted the lamp so that the shade opening pointed directly upwards towards my face.
I adjusted the lamp so that the shade opening pointed directly upwards towards my face.
Masking tape time! I used masking tape to attach the paper to the lampshade.
Masking tape time! I used masking tape to attach the paper to the lampshade.
Base attached! Here, U turned on the lamp. You can see how brightly lit the center hole is!
Base attached! Here, U turned on the lamp. You can see how brightly lit the center hole is!

While this set up helped with my light issue, it really didn’t help me with my stability issue. I could place the Foldscope on the black paper base and it supported the weight fine. However, the Foldscope would still slip around a bit too much when I tried to use it. I thought that the issue arose because nothing was holding the Foldscope against the paper base or lampshade.

Foldscope on my lamp light setup. While it lays flat on my paper base, there isn't anything that holds the Foldscope against it.
Foldscope on my lamp light setup. While it lays flat on my paper base, there isn’t anything that holds the Foldscope against it.

While a few strips of tape could have affixed the Foldscope against the setup, I wanted to create something that would allow me to remove the Foldscope as needed. Additionally, I wanted a solution that would inflict minimal damage to the paper base. Tape would need to be removed every time I wanted to readjust the position of the Foldscope on the base. The removal process might also tear the base, which wouldn’t be a good thing.

I decided that I wanted to use binder clips to clip the Foldscope onto the lampshade. I first tried to just clip it directly onto the lampshade, but the clips wouldn’t clip on. The lampshade was too curved, causing the clips to slip and pop off. I needed to add something to the light set up that could serve as a lip or surface for the binder clips to clip on.

I looked around my desk and found a pair of chopsticks and some pencils. Since I wanted this hack to  center around things anyone could find in an office or at home quickly, I settled on the pencils.

Two ordinary pencils that I used to solve my clip issue.
Two ordinary pencils that I used to solve my clip issue.

Chopsticks, thick straws, or even tightly rolled up paper would work as well. You could even remove the paper base and make a circle with a diameter larger than that of the lampshade. Doing so will create a “lip” that you could use to clip the Foldscopes directly onto the base (in fact, I went home and created another light setup using this method; I share my method and results using this technique later in this post).

Taped pencil to the right of the paper base.
Taped pencil to the right of the paper base.
Taped pencil to the left of the paper base.
Taped pencil to the left of the paper base.
Both pencils attached to the paper base. Note how they are parallel to one another.
Both pencils attached to the paper base. Note how they are parallel to one another.

I proceeded to tape the pencils to the side of the lamp. As long as the two pencils are parallel to one another, it doesn’t matter where along the circumference you tape them.

Once the pencils were in place, I proceeded to attach the Foldscope

Placing the Foldscope on the modified base.
Placing the Foldscope on the modified base.
Clipping time!
Clipping time!
Here, I adjusted the Foldscope so that one edge directly overlapped the pencil.
Here, I adjusted the Foldscope so that one edge directly overlapped the pencil.
Clip the Foldscope edge onto the pencil.
Clip the Foldscope edge onto the pencil.

After clipping the Foldscope onto a pencil, flip one of the little clip arms over so that it lays flat accross the scope. This step isn’t necessary, but it helps add an extra layer of stability.

The flipped down clip arm added an extra layer of stability to the Foldscope on my base.
The flipped down clip arm added an extra layer of stability to the Foldscope on my base.

I then did the same thing with the other pencil. There were a few modifications to the process, however.

The diameter of the lampshade was longer than that of the Foldscope, so I couldn't line the edge directly againstthe left pencil. Thise did not affect the stability of the final clipped setup, however.
The diameter of the lampshade was longer than that of the Foldscope, so I couldn’t line the edge directly against the left pencil. This did not affect the stability of the final clipped setup, however.
I clipped the binder clip to the pencil.
I clipped the binder clip to the pencil.
Even though I couldn't clip the Foldscope edge against the pencil, I was able to stabilize the Foldscope by flipping down the binder clip arm.
Even though I couldn’t clip the Foldscope edge against the pencil, I was able to stabilize the Foldscope by flipping down the binder clip arm.
Final setup with the light turned on.
Final setup with the light turned on.

 

The clips held the Foldscope in place and kept it from slipping around when I panned around. The rightmost arm did limit my panning ability somewhat, but it did not affect my ability to view things through the eyepiece.  Any time I did want more panning ability, I would simply flip the right clip’s arm back up.

Below, I inserted a gif showing both the stability provided by the clips and a look at how panning worked in this setup.

 

Using the desk lamp set up to look at dissected albatross bolus contents

A little background on where exactly I work. I work for an after school science program called the Recruitment In Science Education (RISE) Program. I get to create and teach science lesson plans; it’s a really fun and rewarding job. One of the cool perks about my office space is that it’s packed with a lot of interesting science materials. Fetal pigs and preserved rats, pully systems, and even some albatross boluses.

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Albatross bolus source.
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Albatross boluses and ruler for scale.
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Closeup of albatross bolus contents. You can see a beak on the right side of the picture. A lot of plastic fragments are also scattered throughout the sample.

Albatross boluses are dense pellets of indigestible material they regurgitate. Much of the indigestible material in boluses is found in nature, like squid beaks and indigestible organic fibrous material. Unfortunately, as you can probably see in the pictures above, a lot of the material matted up in the boluses is made out of plastic.

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Closeup of plastic fragments in the bolus

These  albatross boluses came from Midway Atoll. Located near the Hawaiian Islands, the Midway Atoll is a National Wildlife Refuge and serves as a breeding and nesting ground for albatross. Unfortunately, the Midway Atoll and surrounding waters are  heavily polluted by plastic debris. These plastics originate from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a giant system of marine debris buffeted around by the North Pacific Gyre. Albatrosses foraging for food accidentally consume these floating plastic debris which can then be fed to their chicks. While adults can regurgitate most of these plastics in boluses, chicks cannot.

The effects of consume plastic on albatross and albatross chicks is tragic. The plastic fills their stomachs and takes up space in their stomach, making them feel full. Birds can starve to death or die from other complications from a plastic diet, like internal injury or poisoning from chemicals absorbed by the plastic. I will not be posting pictures of the consequences of plastic consumption by albatross birds into the post because some might be uncomfortable by these images. If you want to view these pictures, you can view google image search results by clicking this link here.

I used my Foldscope to look at some of the contents in the boluses. I didn’t dissect any boluses. The bag containing the boluses had several fragments that settled to the bottom, so I looked at those instead.

Time to put this office lamp setup to the test!

The first thing I looked at was a fibrous strand. It looked organic in nature.

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Fibrous fragment on the viewing stage.
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Viewing the fibrous fragment through the Foldscope.

A few observations I made about my viewing setup: the lighting is yellow and things get warm. The yellow lighting issue can easily be adjusted by toying around with your camera’s white balance settings. I did that for a few of the pictures I took while using my Foldscope. The bulb from the lamp did warm things up a bit. I was still able to touch and use things easily, but I noticed that the glass plate warmed up. This would be an issue if I were to view live organisms or any temperature-sensitive sample through my Foldscope.

I wanted to play around with using videos to enhance the Foldscope experience. Instead of taking videos with the lens pressed against the Foldscope, I decided to take videos that simulated the process of pressing your face up against the Foldscope and moving around the stage:

Compare the fibrous tissue above to a piece of plastic string I found in the bolus fragments:

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Next, I looked at a small green piece of plastic. This plastic looked the most plant-like through the Foldscope.

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There was also a clear piece of plastic in the bolus fragments. This plastic appeared to be coated with some organic material.

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Several of the plastic fragment were coated with this organic-looking material. Perhaps it was algae or albatross stomach contents that were coated on when the plastic was in the stomach. I scraped some of the coating off a piece of plastic onto my slide and looked at it through my Foldscope.

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Hacking your Foldscope’s light source: part two

Later that day, I thought of a simpler way to workaround my Foldscope light source issues. Instead of taping in pencils, I could simply make a base that extends a bit beyond the lampshade opening. That way, I could clip the Foldscope directly to the base. I don’t have a round desklamp at home. My desk lamp does have a gooseneck, which lets me bend the shade around; the shade, however, is oblong in shape. Also, my lamp at home looks a lot less sad than my work lamp.

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The process was similar to the one above. Except this time, I cut out a base from cardboard and the base was slightly larger than the lampshade opening.

 

Instead of using tape, I attached the base to the lamp using some hairbands that I had. You could use rubber bands, tape, or string to attach the base to the lamp.

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Base attached! Also note the opening for the light.
Base attached! Also note the opening for the light.

 

Then, I placed the Foldscope onto the lamp base. I slipped it underneath the hairbands and checked if they provided enough stability.

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As you can see above, the hairbands do not provide enough stability.  To stabilize the Foldscope against the base, I used another handy binder clip. I really love binder clips, and even have some fun colored ones at home.

Binder clip time!
Binder clip time!
All clipped up!
All clipped up!

After stabilizing the Foldscope on the cardboard base, I tested the light source using a piece of lettuce. Unfortunately, I don’t have  as many cool science materials at home as I do in my office. No albatross boluses, either.

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This set up also works!

 

Bonus: other uses for binder clips 

If I had to recommend one office supply to keep near your Foldscope, I’d choose  a binder clip! Binder clips can be used to clip your Foldscope into your notebook. They also can be used to clip your Foldscope against a surface or object and provide stability that can help you take clearer pictures.

I keep my Foldscope clipped into my field notebook.
I keep my Foldscope clipped into my field notebook.

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Foldscope attached to a desktop surface. You could easily slip a flat or small light source like a cellphone light underneath.

 

I hope those of you trying to figure out ways to add a light source to your Foldscope found this post useful. The bolus pictures were probably less enjoyable because they show how plastic works its way into the food chain.  Do you have any other ways of adding light sources to your Foldscope? Do you also use other office supplies to aid your Foldscope experience?

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them below!

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