My experiments with stacking remind me just how “flat” the world that microscopists live in can become. Had I paid more attention in school physics lessons, I might be able to explain why this is so. I never think of the microscopic world as flat when I am using my microscope because, like other microscopists, I can use the fine focus controls to move through the image and create, in effect, a mental “stack” of images which allows me to imagine the third dimension. It is only when I look at photographs with blurry out-of-focus sections, that the reality is drilled home. Software packages that allow us to make composite “stacked” images really do represent a major step forward in this respect.
As I mentioned in a post back in May (Phworrrrhhh … algal sex in 3D!), it is also possible to go a step further and produce three-dimensional images and, always ready to test Chris Carter’s mettle, I put a small portion of the Stigonema that I had collected in Norway into an envelope and posted it off to Northampton. Results came back a few days later and a couple of the images are reproduced below. Once again, you’ll need 3D glasses to view these properly. You can buy these online (try http://www.assistpoint.co.uk/3d_glasses_red_cyan_with_arms.html) or go to your local newsagents and see if there are any magazines with a free pair stuck on the front.
Stigonema mamillosum from the River Atma, Norway, an anaglyph (three-dimensional image) by Chris Carter.
Stigonema mamillosum from the River Atma, Norway, a higher magnification image of the same population as the previous image,. Photographed by Chris Carter.
There is a serious point here: it is too easy to forget just how artificial the world that we look at through our microscopes really is. We flatten perspective and view objects at light intensities much greater than anything they encounter in nature, yet we claim to be students of the natural world. Perching a pair of cardboard 3D glasses on the end of your nose may not add much to your aura as a serious scientist, but it does allow a small insight into the natural forms of the organisms that we study that is not normally available.