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Milnesium tardigradum - a minimalistic view with a very modest microscope

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Fig. 1: Milnesium tardigradum from the bin shed roof (cf. previous magazine issues). This photomicrograph is just sufficient in order to perceive some characteristic details of the species: typical long claws at the last pair of legs, "worm-like" body shape, broad mouth tube, conical head geometry, two eye pigment spots present. The field of view is measuring approximately 2 mm, so the body length of the tardigrade is ca. 0.5 mm.

Now what? You are thinking that the image quality might be not at par with the one of the Nikon microscope photography contest? Dirty? Soft edges? Lacking clarity? Okay, you might be right. But one should take into account that this particular photomicrograph was taken by means of an old "Mikromann" microscope, a very cheap instrument, designed for the post-war poor consumer or a child (it was sold by the famous German naturalists' supplier company KOSMOS in 1957).

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Fig. 2: The "Mikromann" microscope (sold by the KOSMOS company in 1957). Please note that the tube is held by a little bit of bent wire and that the fine focusing is performed by tilting the object table. The mirror has a slightly experimental attitude, moreover being fixed by some bizarre element looking like a refugee from an electronic surplus market ...

We should keep in mind that the microscope was sold as a part of an experimental kit. In contrast with many present toy microscopes the box included many quality accessories. E.g. the instrument shown in fig. 2 came with a flawless "grain of wheat" cross section slide. It wouldn't be easy to acquire a similar slide nowadays.

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Fig. 3: A "grain of wheat" cross section slide that came with the microscope shown in fig. 2

Funny enough, a supposedly "socialist" school microscope from the same time, the Kleinmikroskop B was markedly superior in quality. The Eastern German Republic (DDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik) strongly subsidized the production of the "Kleinmikroskop", resulting in an estimated production output in the range of 100,000! Each of those subsidized mini microscopes was equipped with a high-quality achromatic objective and an orthoscopic 15x eye-piece. After the reunification of Germany the Kleinmikroskop was banned from further use in schools. Teachers said that one couldn't work with it any more ... which was kind of fake news. In contrast the western equivalent of the Kleinmikroskop didn't find its way into school at all. It was designed as a poor hobbyist's instrument. As a consequence the Westerners received a crudely sawed wooden instrument with very modest, toy style microscope optics!

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Fig. 4: The optical components of the"Mikromann" microscope as sold in the year 1957.
The eye-piece simple lens is shown on the left side, the field lens of the eye-piece in its fitting in the middle and the objective on the right side of the image. All of this is very elementary but one could use an alternative objective as the tube has an RMS thread - which was a good idea.

20 years later the East German Republic still produced its Kleinmikroskop in a slightly improved version, whereas the West German schools were equipped with much more expensive lab microscopes, some of reknowned companies like Leitz and Zeiss. But in parallel the cheap "Mikromann" managed to survive some time as well, see below:

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Fig. 5: The contents of a KOSMOS "Mikromann" experimental kit sold in 1973. We shouldn't spend too many words on it as the wood had been replaced by an ugly black resin and as the former glass lenses had been replaced by plastics lenses.

But still not all of this was bad, as the experminental kit actually contained one quality specimen - in case of the instrument shown in fig. 5 a Barbados radiolarian specimen:

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Fig. 6: Detail of the radiolarian specimen slide provided with the KOSMOS "Mikromann" experimental kit of 1973. This looks like a quality preparation.

Tempi passati!

© Text, images and video clips by  Martin Mach  (webmaster@baertierchen.de).
The Water Bear web base is a licensed and revised version of the German language monthly magazine  Bärtierchen-Journal . Style and grammar amendments by native speakers are warmly welcomed.

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