Scientists have developed a new microscope that allows them to get up close and personal with corals in their natural environment without having to remove them from the reef. The high-powered digital microscope was developed by a team at UC San Diego and unveiled in Nature Communications the other day.
The underwater world is still a mystery and tools like this will be helpful for the scientific community to closely study life on the sea floor, while providing us some pretty cool images of a variety of marine organisms.
So how does it work? The microscope can capture images to a resolution of nearly one micrometer thanks to a combination of a camera to record images and video and a computer to focus the lens and store the images. To make sure the camera can see what it’s pointed at, there is a ring of LEDs to provide illumination.
Both are contained in separate submersible aluminum containers and the unit is mounted to a tripod to allow the team to position it on the ocean floor. In fact, you can see each image that is taken, giving you immediate feedback on the quality of each shot.
Although we have learned a lot about coral from observing it in our aquariums, getting a closer look in their natural environment is incredibly valuable. “If you take coral and bring it back to the lab, you can precisely study it, but you’re totally removing it from its natural conditions,” said study lead author Andrew Mullen, a graduate student in ocean engineering at UC San Diego.
According to the LA Times, Mullen and his colleagues used the new microscope to observe corals on reefs off the coast of Maui and the Israeli city of Eilat. Where traditional microscopes require you to get pretty close to the subject, this digital benthic microscope is positioned about 2 inches above the coral and the computer goes to work to bring the coral into focus.