Truevision Microscopes

Raiding the Kitchen: Simple Science Experiments Done under a Microscope

Science experiments using a microscope can be a rewarding, challenging, and educational exercise. This excursion into the microworld doesn’t have to be difficult. There are many microscope experiments that teachers and students can perform without the need of expensive or hard-to-get samples. In fact, these samples are everywhere around us and all we need to do is to just go get them. There are many microscope specimens that we can find by just raiding our kitchen. For these microscope activities, we may need a high power compound light microscope. However, for children and kids, a kid microscope or child microscope will also be okay to use.

Let us begin with food starch. Starch is one of the most common adulterants which are foreign substances that are added to the manufacture of food. There are many different kinds of starches, among these are potato, wheat, corn and rice. These starches are not difficult for the student to recognize from each other under a high power microscope.

To begin with, we will examine potato starch. Use a knife to scrape the newly cut surface of a potato and transfer it to a blank microscope slide. Add a drop of water and finally put on the thin cover slip that locks down the specimen while protecting the microscope objective from contamination. Under a high power compound microscope, the potato substance will look like transparent microscopic oyster shells that come in oval, ellipsoidal or triangular sizes. These are the potato starch grains.

Since the grains are not flat, use the fine adjustment knob to focus on all the parts. If we turn our attention to the narrower end of the grain, we will see a dark minute spot that is not in the center of the grain. This is the hilum and is the oldest part of the grain on which it has grown around layer by layer. Use the X-Y stage movement knobs to locate the specimen. Next, use the coarse and fine focus knobs to raise the stage up and down to get the proper focus. The student should try to find the concentric rings called striations. These indicate the layers where the grain has grown.

We then move on to examining the grains of a wheat starch under the high power kid microscope. If you do not have wheat starch at home, procure some grains and soak them under the water for 24 hours. After that, cut one across and mount it on the microscope slide. Unlike a potato starch, the wheat starch does not have a hilum or striations. Instead, we can find large grains in oval or rounded sizes. Under a scientific microscope, the student will find they look like flattened pebbles.

The next specimen that we examine is corn starch. Corn starch is different from both the potato and wheat starch. Under an educational microscope, they look like irregularly round or sharply polygonal depending on the kernel. The hilum can be found at the center.

Finally, we examine rice starch under a compound microscope. We first have to soak a few grains of rice in water for three to four hours. Once the grain has softened, scrape a little of it and mount it on the microscope slide. The grains of the rice starch as seen under a high power compound microscope are very small. They also have many sides from being square to triangular or pentagonal in shape. Students may also see grains that are compacted with one another in a spherical shape.

There are more kinds of starches that students or children can be observed under the microscope. Since arrowroot starch doesn’t come from a single plant, its grains vary in shapes depending on the plant where it was derived. Bean starch grains are mostly ellipsoidal or kidney-shaped under a high power microscope. Tapioca starch grains are kettle-drum or sugar loaf shaped depending on how they lie. Now that we are aware of the characteristics of starch, we can then go on with examining other kitchen specimens under our scientific microscope. Let us begin with butter. Smear a small sample onto a microscope slide and add a drop of olive oil. Cover the slide with the microscope slip and press it firmly until a thin layer is formed. A thin layer is best for ease of viewing since under high power magnification, only a small distance is completely in focus. This is defined as the field of view of a microscope. Outside of this range, the specimen is not in focus. So the thinner the specimen, the easier it is to get into focus.

Under a compound light microscope, we examine the properties of our kitchen butter. We first look for the presence or absence of starch grains which look like either flattened pebbles or granules. A common butter does not have starch grains.

The next that we look for under the educational compound microscope are the drops of water. This indicates the butter’s quality. If you happen to see a few drops that are scattered in various sizes, then your butter is of high quality. When the drops of water, however, are in small globules of the same size, then the butter is milk-blended. If the butter has large drops, on the other hand, then this is evident that the butter has an excessive amount of water.

Finally, we look for the presence of flour. If the flour is adulterated with starches such as potato starch, then this will be easily identified as oyster shell-like granules. Flour may also contain other impurities and under a scientific high power microscope, such as you may see insect parts and other substances.

If you have cocoa at home, then we can also put it under the student’s kid microscope. Wheat and arrowroot starches are often used to adulterate cocoa, therefore we can easily find grains in round or other shapes.

Another kitchen food that teachers can assign their student to bring to class are jams or marmalades. These preserved food are also most of the time adulterated. Common jam adulterant is apple pulp. Under a high power compound microscope, they look like grains with a tough membrane.

Students or children can also look for honey in their next experiment. This can be a very educational microscope activity as you will know how to distinguish genuine honey from the artificial ones. Artificial honey is manufactured from melting of various sugars and therefore has no pollen grains. You may also find the presence of starch grains.

Genuine honey, on the other hand, can be proven when the honey is dissolved in water. It gives a residue that, when viewed under a high power microscope, consists of pollen grains and other matters such as wood and fibers. This may be one of the better microscope activities and lessons for kids since they may want to migrate to viewing nature items outside. While out of the scope of this article discussion, children always love to view insects such as bees and to look at flower pollen with a field nature microscope on their science field trip.

Teachers and students can also detect the presence of preservatives in food. The most common preservative is benzoic acid. What the students must do is to put the sample on a microscope slide and cover it with the cover slip. Heat the sample to boiling and allow the steam to condense on the plate. Remove the plate while still hot and let the drops of liquid evaporate. View the residue under the microscope and you will if the benzoic acid is present when you see crystalline deposits.

There are many potential science specimens in the kitchen that we can observe under the student compound microscope. Teachers as well as children can find examining these samples to be a worthwhile and educational microscope activity enjoyable for all.

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