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Everyday Objects under a Microscope: Examining Toothpastes and White Chalk

It is hard to imagine that even the most common tools that we use at home or at school can be very exciting to examine under the microscope. What we are going to examine today, for example, are toothpastes and white chalks. The microscope that we will use is a high power compound light microscope but children or kids can also use their simple kid microscopes.

To start with our simple science experiment, we have to smear a little of our toothpaste on a microscope slide and place it on the microscope stage. If you are lucky enough, you will see lace-like little bodies that make up the toothpaste under a high power compound microscope. Believe it or not, these are microfossil skeletons of little plants that lived more than a million years ago. A more interesting fact is that these plants live as of today and grow abundantly in almost every pond or pool.

These plants are known as Diatoms. A single diatom is invisible to the naked eye but in large numbers, they can be seen as a yellowish-brown film on the water’s surface. We can easily obtain them by skimming up this yellowish-brown film or scraping up some mud. We can also see them attached to some larger water plants.

If we look at diatoms under a compound light microscope, we will see that they have a structure that is different from plants. Diatoms are made up of two box-shaped parts that are called valves. They look like a pill-box with a lid.

Another distinguishable feature of a diatom that can be seen under a scientific compound microscope is their form. Diatoms come is geometric shapes like circles, triangles, and precise patterns. There are also marked with lines that are actually partly-raised ribs or tubercles and partly-sunken pits called pores. They look beautiful to behold under a high power child microscope.

The diatoms have walls that are filled with silica. This makes their pill-box structure indestructible. When the diatoms die, they leave their shells behind and these remain as skeletons. These microscopic skeletons lay atop each other as the diatoms live and die above them. To the naked eye, these can be seen as mud but they are actually living diatoms above the shell remains at the bottom.

These skeleton deposits result to a substance called “diatomaceous earth”. This is used as a base for a lot of powders for polishing and toothpastes.

White chalks, on the other hand, are also made of shells of tiny animals called Foraminifera. Foraminifera characteristically have holes in their shells. Most of them also live in marine waters and the shells are made of calcium carbonate. Fresh water foraminifera, on the other hand, are rare to find and are strengthened by silica.

Average foraminifera are smaller than a pinhead and if we look at them under a compound light microscope, we will find that they consist of single cell protoplasm. This protoplasm is within the shell and it moves by extending thread-like projections or pseudopodia through the holes of the shell.

The reproduction process of foraminifera happens when it divides into two. Sometimes, a full separation does not happen and the foraminifera continue on forming colonies. This goes on until thousands and thousands of colonies are formed. This is called a calcareous structure and they can reach up to three inches across.

It is easy to find these miniature animals at the sea shore, especially at the ripples left by the tide. They are also attached to underwater vegetation and rocks.

By performing these microscope activities with our compound microscope or child microscope, we will get to know more the everyday objects around us than what can be seen with the naked eye. It is good for students to experience first-hand how these everyday household items can be so interesting when viewed under the microscope.

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