Saturday, 23 July 2016

Taking a closer look at coral

When you want to take a look at something small, you use a microscope. But what if you want to observe something under water? You can’t use a normal microscope then. Andrew Mullen has a solution.

It’s pretty hard

There are a couple of problems you face when designing an underwater microscope. For starters, an air-filled tube, what a microscope essentially is, is going to float. So you have to attach something heavy to it so it sinks. There’s also the problem of getting the diver’s eye close enough to the microscope so he or she can look through it. Since the diver is wearing a diving mask, putting that against the microscope to try and take a look won’t work. The microscope also needs to be some distance away from the thing you want to observe otherwise, the microscope would damage it. And that’s not a thing you want if you’re studying delicate coral structures. Moreover, you also need some electricity to light up the thing you want to take a look at. However, this can be solved quite simply with a battery. A bigger problem emerges when you want to observe something in moving water. It’s very difficult then to keep the microscope still, and also not to float away yourself. Andrew Mullen and his team were able to tackle all these problems and design a good underwater microscope.

A solution to all your problems
Mullen’s microscope is completely adapted to work underwater. It is connected to a camera, so nobody has to look through it and have problems with their diving masks. But the microscope, which is called the Benthic Underwater Microscope (BUM), can also focus really quickly, so it can take quick, clear photos of the thing that’s being observed. This comes in handy in moving water, because moving the microscope around a bit isn’t a huge problem anymore. It also has LED-lights to shine light on the observed specimen. All the components sit snugly in a compact housing, so the microscope is very easy for a diver to work with. So easy that it can be operated by just one diver.

Magnify the coral!
consequences of bleached coral; dead coral

Andrew Mullen and his team use the microscope to take detailed pictures of coral. These structures are so delicate that it is impossible to take them out of the water and observe them on land. With the microscope, the scientists have found out how polyps, the little animals coral is composed of, digest their prey. They work together and digest it with combined movement of their tentacles. The microscope is also great for studying the bleaching of coral. This bleaching happens when algae that live on the coral die because of changes in the seawater, which are probably caused by climate change. The coral can’t live without the algae and dies too, leaving behind a ghost town of coral. So this new microscope will also come in really helpful in finding ways to protect the beautiful coral reefs.

Click here to read more about biology.
Click here to read more about phyics.