Oh, what fun we had!
We kick-started the session by getting everybody up to speed with what a microscope was. This was the hardest part for me. As a graduate student, who has worked with microscopes for countless hours each day, how do you explain what a microscope is to someone who has never heard of one before? Luckily I had help from a couple of high school students and together we spoke of magnifying glasses and ‘zooming in really close’ like you would taking a photo on a smartphone. Our introduction to the session was finished with a short video of Manu Prakash sharing the vision of the foldscope – thanks Manu.
Once we were fired up to go the building began. Sharing 3 foldscopes between the group meant that there was always hands reaching in, desperate to be involved in the making of our very own microscopes. After careful popping out and folding we had three perfectly assembled foldscopes. We celebrated with a quick round of applause and the noise of excitement. Thinking that the work was done, there must have been at least four inquisitive eyes peering into the strange new device to see what they could see. But a microscope is no use without a specimen! So that is what we did next – prepared the specimens.
Bugs? Ewwww! The initial disgust of working with bugs was quickly overcome by curiosity. Every pair of hands was gently ripping a leg, wing or antenna using toothpicks and sticking them to the paper slide. Soon the microscopes were put use with every student getting a chance to view their specimen under their newly created microscopes. The ‘a-ha’ moment is the most joyous thing to watch. Students who learnt for the first time that day what a microscope was were now shouting out “It’s so big!” and similar remarks as they looked up to the light seeing for the first time the microscopic world.
I wish I could have captured the first ‘a-ha’ moments on video. The first jaw dropped and awe was written on their face as they handed the microscope on to the next user. What a rush! What had the first student seen? Everybody wanted to find out. I’m next, I’m next, I’m next rang out with excitement as students waited for their turn to see their specimen under the microscope.
The passing and viewing of samples ended once everyone had a turn to see what their specimen looked like up close. Time had run out and we had to put the foldscopes away so that we could end the session with food, drink and prayer. The excitement of the foldscopes did not end when they were put away however. I can only believe that almost everyone left with the same excitement that I left with.
In our next session we will be taking pictures of our discoveries and posting them to the website. After that it is up to the students to find their own samples and discover the world on their own.
Written by Wren Beghin after leading the first microscope session.