I conducted this project as part of Professor Pringle’s EEB321 class at Princeton. This semester, the class (and all other classes) are online, and I have been living with friends. This has been a new experience for all of us, and the six of us (plus our foster dog Chad) have been learning a lot about being independent and living (sort of) in the real world. One thing in particular that we learned is that cleaning is hard, and you have to constantly be doing it. In our house with no dishwasher, and no garbage disposal, we’ve had some trouble keeping our dishes and the sink clean. Upon receiving a foldscope from the EEB department, I decided to take a closer look at the filth that we have created, in hopes that it will inspire my roommates and myself to tackle the mounting mess in our kitchen.
First, I began by looking at some sink water under the foldscope, but was unable to find anything that looked like a living cell. I figured this was a good start, and maybe the sink wasn’t so gross after all. So, I (very carefully with a fork) grabbed a piece of lettuce that was stuck in the drain, and mounted it on a slide. This is what I saw.
The picture quality isn’t great because I had some trouble affixing the foldscope to my phone, but among the air bubbles, you can make out the plant cells of the soggy old piece of lettuce, Lactuca satica.
These plant cells represent the wasted, unconsumed resources of our household ecosystem. With six self-described apex predators in the house, we leave very few resources unconsumed, and Chad the dog enjoys a mutualistic relationship with us, where he fills a niche by taking care of excess food. Unfortunately, there is still some food left in the sink, and we hope that the extra energy that this Grinnellian niche represents does not get filled by insects or rodents. I hope to do some more investigating of the microscopic life that exists around the house, and hopefully we can get a better grasp of how gross our living conditions truly are.