What Microscope Do We Use? (And Other Frequently Asked Questions)

It’s a pretty sweet gig that we’ve got…to
act as a tour guide through the microcosmos, and we’ve been fortunate to be joined by
you fellow travelers, bringing all of your insightful thoughts, and very funny quips
and also good questions in the comments section. So for today, we wanted to turn it around
and let some of the most frequent questions we’ve received guide this episode so we
can talk more about how things work behind the scenes here, and how it impacts this
journey. Many of you have asked how we find and care
for our microscopic friends. Well, James, our collector of microbes and
master of microscopes, takes samples literally from everywhere he can, but his favorite spot
is a park just next to his house. Collecting these samples requires some high
tech equipment like…a selfie stick. Which James bought and converted into a portable
sampling stick that lets him reach tough spots. It’s lightweight. It’s collapsable, what else do you need! Once we have collected our specimens, we can’t
ignore them, we have to take care of them, keep them alive and thriving. For James, that means a few things: protecting
them from environmental factors like direct sunlight or sudden changes in temperature,
while also providing them with a nutritious setting that allows them to grow. This of course looks different for different
microbes. For algae, James adds a couple drops of liquid
plant fertilizer into the water and gives them some natural sunlight. But heterotrophs like ciliates and flagellates,
they need food, and James has a number of different homemade solutions that provide
that sustinance. From nearly the beginning of microbe hunting,
a favorite food has been a hay infusion, and that is something that James uses as well. It’s basically just…boiled hay. Other times, he might sprinkle some cooked
rice grains into the sample, or add drops of milk. It’s a whole menu designed to suit different
organisms, but no matter what they demand, the goal is the same: to make sure we’re
taking care of our little pond buddies. Now to the most frequent question of all,
our equipment. When it comes time to get a closer look at
our cultures, we’ve used two different microscopes to film the footage you’ve seen on this
channel. The first one is a microscope that James cobbled
together from various parts for just under $200, creating hundreds of hours of recorded
footage that we still use. So this one is a microcosmos original. You can’t buy it, there is only one, and
there is no brand name. After we launched our channel, James got a
sponsorship from a microscope company—maybe the most niche (and, we think, one of the
coolest) sponsorships you can get—and since then, he’s used a Motic BA310 microscope
and a Fujifilm X-T3 camera. With this microscope, we’ve been able to
expand on the kind of footage we can show thanks to the different types of light we
can use, like these paramecia that we observed under polarized light. We’re very excited about all the different
forms of light you can use with this microscope and what they reveal about the microcosmos,
and you will see more of that in future episodes. Another common question…how do we prepare
and observe our samples…how do we actually get a look at these organisms? Well, the procedure is fairly similar each
time. We first take a drop from our samples and
place that on a glass slide, and then we cover that drop with another super-thin piece of
glass called a coverslip. That creates an extremely thin film of water
between those two pieces of glass, and that is what we observe when we make our videos. Some of you have asked why we can see microbes
moving left, right, up, and down, but they never seem to move towards or away from us. Of course, microbes live in a three dimensional
universe, but our footage does not always reflect that because of how microscopes work. The high magnification objectives that we
use have a low depth of field, meaning the area that is in focus is a very thin slice. So we force the microcosmos into a two dimensional
space, this very thin area between the two pieces of glass. Now sometimes we actually make that area thicker
for larger organisms by putting some stuff under the coverslip. Maybe it’s some decaying plant matter or
some tiny grains of sand. In those cases, however, it becomes easier
for those organisms to wander out of focus Our microscope also shapes the way we observe
the color of these organisms, or often, what seems to be the lack thereof. We’ve been asked why so many of them are
transparent, and, well, transparency comes down to two things. First, how much light there is, and second
how much stuff there is blocking that light. In the case of microscopic observation…there’s
a lot of light, and the bodies are tiny. Some of these organisms just lack the pigments
that would make them colorful. But for others, the light source in the microscope
is just too strong, overpowering their pigments so they appear, to our eyes, transparent. And you would be transparent too if you were
only a few microns thick. Some of you also want to know whether we use
stains to create our footage. Stains are a common laboratory and medical
technique that uses dyes to bind to different parts of cells and thus help visualize their
components and processes. While they are often beautiful and very informative,
stains can also be harmful to cells, potentially even killing them so we have chosen to keep
the microorganisms un-stained. There have also been questions about what
our magnification notes mean. Those 100x’s and 200x’s you see up in
the corner. Those numbers refer specifically to the magnification
created by the microscope, not how much larger the image is as it appears on your screen,
relative to its actual size. Now that is a subtle difference, but subtle
differences can be very important. After all, some of you are watching this on
your phones, others are watching on a computer screen, others might be watching on a big
70” flat screen on your wall and if you are, that’s awesome. Thank you. We, however, do not know what size device
you’re watching this on, but you’re seeing the same 100x in the corner because that describes
the optics of the microscope, not the size of the screen you’re using to watch YouTube
videos. To fix this, we’ve gotten a lot of comments
asking us to use a scale bar instead of the magnification, and we’ve been thinking about
non-intrusive ways of implementing that. And finally, we’ve had questions about how
real-time our footage is. We always make sure to note whether the footage
we’re showing has been sped up. Sometimes the microbes we show you are super
chill and relaxed, and sometimes, they are very much not chill, moving faster than many
of us might expect. We’re asked sometimes whether any particular
piece of footage has been sped up, and rest assured that unless we’ve noted it, that
very active microbe is just very active. I mean, calm down friend. You can take a breather. And so can all of us every once in a while. Thank you so much for all of your questions
and all your comments over these months. We hope that by answering them, you find new
things to ponder and ask us about the micrococosmos. A question that doesn’t pose new questions
is no question at all. And if, say, you are wondering whether this
channel reminds us of the cell stage in the game Spore…the answer is of course yes,
yes it very much does. Thank you for coming on this journey with
us as we explore the unseen world that surrounds us. We also just recently launched our very first piece of microcosmos merch! I’m wearing it right now, though you cannot see that, because there are no cameras on me, but I promise I am. It’s a Stentor Coeruleus pin, and the image of the Stentor on the pin is roughly 40x the size of what a real-world Stentor coerules is, So when people see it, you can tell them that. And you can own this little piece
of the microcosmos, there’s a link, in the description. Thank you so much to all of our patrons on
Patreon who make it possible for us to do this weird thing that we love doing And if you want to see more from our Master
of Microscopes James, you can check out Jam and Germs on Instagram. And, of course, if you want to subscribe to
Journey to the Microcosmos, I bet you can figure out how to do that.


  1. What kind of jobs do people have when studying micro/cellular biology? Does anyone on the show have any backgrounds in those jobs? I'd love to hear about what that's like.

  2. I do not think this is a weird thing but I am a MD. I think microbiologists are great people and nice to know. But I know many people from all walks of life.

  3. For the next Q&A, do you ever come across species you can't identify? Not just because it looks like thousands of other similar species, but is strange and unidentified.

  4. I think it would be beneficial to mention at the start of each video "The footage is shown in real time unless otherwise specified."

  5. 7:53 yes please do! Just replace the 200x with the scale bar. It only really needs to be a single unit not a full fledged bar with multiple units on it or anything.

  6. I'm always watching your show on my 55 inch 4k television! And it looks so cool on TV! I absolutely love your channel guys! I'm almost 50 now but your show brings me back to my first and only microscope I got for Christmas when I was 13. I used to order microbes from a catalog and couldn't wait for that next shipment to arrive! My mom would very carefully walk the package to my room thinking she was going to get "bugs" on her. I miss those days… Thank you!

  7. I wish my school buys a Motic BA310 and a Fujifilm X-T3 but I work in a language school so… Maybe I can convince the manager? 😬

  8. I want that pin so much!😍 Stentor C is my favorite Protozoan. You make my day with these videos! I never thought I’d find something to fuel the microbiology obsession that’s almost taken over my life since I started zoology this year… Is this what love is?❤️

  9. Is that silly paramecium at 7:24 eating from the stentors’ mouths or is it just stupidly getting caught in their vortices again and again?

  10. A scale bar would be quite useful, although you run into the issue of the human mind not working well at micron lengths.

  11. Nobody :
    James : *is a adoptive father of cells*

    edit : can we have a whole video of speedy microbes you guys have captured because its my new favourite thing ever

    edit 2 : can we please have a tardigarde pin i mean its the best thing ever

  12. So it seems there should be some natural crossover between the Hank and his microbes, and the funny guy named Ze Frank.
    I'm hoping that you can either share some of your footage with him or you'll give him a spot on your channel

  13. These videos prompted me to buy a microscope so I could show my kids pictures of tardigrades, parameceum, rotifers, diatoms, and so many other things I can't name. Just a $70 microscope with a mount for a smartphone and a bit of pond water has gotten them excited about this world and given me hours of fun. If anyone else who likes this thinking of trying it, I can't recommend it enough.

  14. Please find a way to add scalebars. It gives far more helpful information than a magnification with no extra context. Also, like the Spore shoutout.

  15. I've been watching Youtube since the beginning but I've cut down my subscriptions to under 50 and three of them involve Hank 😛

  16. Something I think would be fascinating to see is some of those mega-viruses. Is your microscope powerful enough to do that, or are they still too small?

  17. As bio engineer I find this amazing, but as human being I'm so relaxed with the voice, music and effects. Awesome

  18. At what point does the world go from micro to macro. What’s the biggest micro thing and the smallest macro thing?

  19. Do you guys think you can use a time lapse microscope? If so, I can help you contact a manufacturer called Etaluma. I’m one of their distributors. I think they might be interested in helping you out. Let me know.

  20. I'm so glad you decided not to dye your microbes, I heard the dye color "Red 40" can make them extremely hyper and irritable ha ha ha.

    But in all honesty, I think it shows them for what they are, for what they would look like if someone were to try to find any of these at home with their microscope! It's nice to see you're thinking of the microbes and not what would look best on screen.

  21. 8:23 What is that type are those plants? What is/are the species(es)? Why the helical structure or arrangement of chloroplasts(?) in the cells?
    New thing to ponder: Did the sample come from a body of water smaller than 10 acres (4 ha)?

  22. Question; is there such a thing as a cellular camera?? would be cool to see the microcosmos in a more 3-d sorta setting

  23. how come there are some microsopes being sold for 150-300 dollars and others that are 1500 dollars, yet they both have almost the same maximum magnification? Also, I use microscopes in my human biology class in college, and they are binocular (or is it bifocal?), but everytime I use both eyes, the image is never properly visible and these black shadows cover the image with the slightest movement. no matter how I adjust the width of the two eyepieces, that never goes away. Is that normal?

  24. I was given a high quality B&L scope at age 8. It was bequeathed by my grandfather. It soon became my most cherished possession. I am sure that event and the hours of exploration that followed are the main reason I am now a biochemist. I love to come here and revisit my old friends and meet some new ones.

  25. I thought some of these videos had been sped up without mentioning it but NOW I'm flabbergasted b/c some of those tiny fellas are TOO ACTIVE

  26. Would it be possible to use a low powered microscope light with a sensitive camera so we can see the colors of the transparent microbes that aren't actually transparent? Not to replace the original footage though

  27. Please use 30 fps instead of 24 fps. The majority of monitors have a frequency of 60 hz. Since this is not a multiple of 24, it causes 24 fps video to have video judder, not be as smooth as it should be. 30 and 60 fps are the best framerates to use for online intended video.

  28. got to love how Hank, who is naturally a very energetic fellow, be so good at talking calmly and relaxingly. one of the most talented people out there. Nice work!

  29. yea it remember me spore cell stage but it remember me way more flOw especially how the lens work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PW1KWmZYKq0

  30. This is one of the most underrated channels on YouTube… Also, how does that Nassula Ornata move so precisely and quickly? I don't see any external organs or extensions of its body that would steer it so well…can someone explain?

  31. Dear Hank, thank you for this beautiful view on the microcosmos.
    Would you, in the future, allow us to have a glimpse at the microcosmos in the soil ?

  32. I have two questions: Why can't you adjst your very fine depth of field on a microscope like we do with a normal camera, by varying the aperture? And secondly, is your very alluring narrator the same as the one on Watchfinder & Co.?

  33. We’re proud about what James achieves and we are happy for our small contribution to the science community. Thanks to his talent, we can enjoy these beautiful images. Congratulations!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *