Saturday, September 22, 2007

Super Small and Super Cool

As I think you can guess, I love science in all of its scientificness. In high school, I had all sorts of opportunities to do cool experiments and use cool equipment. There was one thing we had that not even most colleges have and I think its time I pay tribute to it.

Oh, I’m sorry, I lied. They’re really two things.

The science teachers at my high school were amazing teachers and they worked hard. For a few years, they wrote letter after letter and pushed hard until they got a grant to buy a new microscope. And it was worth the effort.

They bought an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). The AFM works kind of like SONAR. An arm with a point on the end of it wiggles at its natural frequency (Everything has a natural frequency, which is why singers can break glass, but this a whole different blog post entirely) sweeps across a sample at a certain speed that you set. As it goes over a sample, the very tiny differences in height make the arm wiggle higher or lower. Software takes this information, which it collects by bouncing a laser off the top of the arm, and makes a picture on a screen.

I’ve looked at cat fur with this microscope. It looked like an alien landscape. Even better, it can be used to look at live samples. You want to see a little protein form in an amoeba? You can do it with the AFM.

Thanks Physik for the picture of silicon

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