Optical microscopy assists blimp-based air study

Jan. 22, 2014
Seeking to explain how clouds are created and the relationship between diverse ecosystems and weather, a multidisciplinary team of British scientists made a month-long, U.S. coast-to-coast air trip in the Skyship 600 blimp to collect air samples from clouds.

Seeking to explain how clouds are created and the relationship between diverse ecosystems and weather, a multidisciplinary team of British scientists made a month-long, U.S. coast-to-coast air trip in the Skyship 600 blimp to collect air samples from clouds. The trek—which began at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida and ended in Big Sur, CA—is the subject of a BBC Two documentary series in production titled Cloud Lab.

The research team included meteorologist Felicity Aston of the University of Reading, who led the work; entomologist Dr. Sarah Beynon and professional explorer Dr. Chris Van Tulleken, both of the University of Oxford; and Jim McQuaid, a university academic in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds.

During their expedition, they landed at 13 different air fields, setting up temporary "labs" (each of which were monitored by a small ground crew along the way) for sample analysis. The Axio Vert.A1 inverted compound microscope, on loan from Carl Zeiss Microscopy (Thornwood, NY), enabled the scientists to look at the cultures grown on filters from different locations for fungi and bacteria. The microscope's visible light-emitting diode (LED) illumination allowed them to observe their samples with minimal disruption. After being examined in the field, the samples were sent out to be imaged with a scanning electron microscope, as well as for possible DNA testing.

The Cloud Lab documentary is slated to air as a two-part series on BBC Two sometime in 2014.

About the Author

Lee Dubay | Managing Editor

Lee Dubay is a seasoned editor and digital content manager with 20 years of experience in technology B2B media. She specializes in digital content management, as well as website analytics, SEO, and social media engagement best practices. 

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