Matchstick cells

The school year has begun, with new textbooks, new stuff to learn, and soon, new foldscopes for students in ten of the TSWREIS schools — thanks to DBT and Prakash Lab’s ‘India Foldscope Phase 1’. The school curriculum of Telangana State luckily prescribes quite a few microscope activities. We are trying these out, with a few variations, in preparation for our teachers’ workshop and school rollout which should happen soon enough.

More than 350 years ago Robert Hooke famously observed ‘cells’ of cork under a simple microscope. Today bottle corks are hard to find, so the Telangana textbook suggests a nice alternative — matchsticks.

We tried out four matches of different brands from local shops. We soaked the 4 matches in water and cut thin transverse sections from them at different time intervals. Here is what we saw through the foldscope (please click for a better image):

Transverse sections, of four matchsticks of different brands soaked in water for different amounts of time, under foldscope

It was easier to get slices from soaked matchsticks in comparison to the unsoaked ones. The cells (we assume they were cells) became more prominent as the matchsticks were soaked. The optimum time for soaking was 30-45 minutes. Soaking longer than 30 minutes did not add much to the observation. With overnight soaking the matches decomposed and lost some of their cell structure.

The ‘Joker’ and ‘Black’ brands fared better, in our sample of one matchstick each(!) In the ‘Ship’ matchstick, the fibres seem to criss-cross leaving, it appears to us, holes which are more prominent than the cells.

In comparison with cork which comes from dead cells in the bark of the cork oak, matchstick wood comes from the inner woody part, so we guess that it must be mostly xylem tissue. In India matches are made from wood of the Indian aspen (Evodia roxburghiana), White mutty (Ailanthus malabarica) and Indian Cotton Tree (Bombax ceiba). The way the wood is cut into veneer and then chopped (video) shows that the xylem vessels may lie along the length of the matchstick; but seems from our observations that it is not always so.

Maybe someone of you who knows better can comment.

Udit Sancheti (Udit on Microcosmos)

Jayashree Ramadas

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