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Scientist develop first underwater microscope to study corals

By Leonard Ho - Posted Jul 13, 2016 09:00 AM
To date, studying corals at the microscopic level was confined to artificial laboratory settings. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California has designed and built a beast of a microscope that works undersea, allowing researchers (for the first time) to study corals in the wild at nearly micrometre resolution.
Scientist develop first underwater microscope to study corals

Images with different focal scans of a live coral acquired in situ with the BUM using an ETL focal scan. Images collected using the × 5 objective and wide spectrum white LED illumination.

The new underwater microscope is named the Benthic Underwater Microscope, or BUM for short.  Despite its name, we aren't talking about some hodge-podge consumer microscope here.  Just one look at this microscope (below) is a testament to its impressive engineering.


The BUM will allow researchers to study corals like we have never been able to before.  The battery-powered microscope can capture both still and video images with its CCD sensor up to an optical resolution of up to 2.2 μm.  A ring of LEDs illuminate the subject at various distances (ie. the microscope does not need to be butted right up against a coral), which is brought into focus using an electrically tunable focusing lens.  The LEDs can be fitted with either full spectrum (white) or blue spectrum for fluorescence imaging.  The BUM can be manually diver-operated or be set up for extended operation.

For more information about BUM, read Nature's open access paper about its development and technical specifications.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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