The world of microorganisms and sample identification is truly fascinating, but only if you are using the correct equipment. Today, we will be focusing on the polarized light microscope (PLM). The team at SanAir Technologies Laboratory has put together this article to help you understand what polarized light microscopes are, as well as how they can be used for sample identification.
Polarized light microscopes direct a beam of altered light, called polarized light, through a sample. The beam travels through a series of filters that change the polarity and wavelength of the light, and the result is a very high-contrast image. PLM analysis is regularly used for analyzing bones, teeth, muscles, geological features, and asbestos.
Think about the smallest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. While most of us think of a piece of dust or a grain of sand, odds are, the smallest thing you’ve actually seen was under the lens of a microscope in a grade school science class. While what you observed in science class is certainly small, it’s nothing compared to what can be seen utilizing modern technology in electron microscopes. These devices are used by our laboratory to thoroughly examine a sample and provide a precise breakdown of its components.
What Makes a Microscope
Most people do have some experience using a standard compound light microscope. You’re probably more familiar with the basic components of a microscope than you may think. When using a compound light microscope, you typically rely on four key things. These are
- A light source.
- A specimen to examine.
- The lenses that magnify the view of the specimen.
- The magnified image of the specimen that you see.
In an electron microscope, these four core elements are still present but function slightly differently. Instead of using a light source, electron microscopes rely on a beam of rapidly moving electrons. The specimen usually has to be specially prepared and held inside a vacuum chamber from which the air has been pumped out. This is because the air in a sample can slow down the electrons in the beam. The magnifying lenses are replaced by a series of coil-shaped electromagnets through which the electron beam travels. In an electron microscope, the coils bend the electron beams in a similar manner that the standard microscope does to produce a magnification of the sample. The final image that is examined by scientists is a photograph called an electron micrograph, which appears as an image on a television screen for better viewing.
When it comes to sample testing, our lab can test for specific substances like asbestos or lead, but to test for the presence of living organisms, we can opt to use microbiology identification. In the microbiology identification process, scientists examine samples in a variety of ways and run a series of tests to draw conclusions about the presence of microorganisms in the sample. In homes and businesses, this can be particularly helpful in testing air samples for the presence of mold and microorganisms.
It might surprise you to learn that microbiology identification is utilized in a number of different fields beyond the testing of air in your home or business. In the medical field, microbiology testing is used to identify the presence of viruses, parasites, fungi, and bacteria that cause harm to the human body. Pharmaceutical microbiologists study enzymes, vitamins, antibiotics, and vaccines. Food microbiology surrounds the identification of bacteria and microbes that are present in spoiling foods and the foodborne illnesses they cause. When studying the environment and the atmosphere, in particular, microbiology identification is utilized to understand how microorganisms in the environment affect human health.
In the fall of 2017, an outbreak of harmful bacteria linked to the cooling mist at Disneyland in California caused 22 people to develop Legionnaires’ disease, resulting in one fatality. In December of 2018, a health official testified that Legionella bacteria in the water of the cooling tower was the most likely source. This frightening outbreak left many people seeking more information about just what Legionnaires’ disease is and how it is caused. Our goal is to help you understand Legionnaires’ disease and its causes, as well as how we can help if you suspect contamination of this bacteria.
Where Does Legionnaires’ Come From?
The Legionella bacteria is typically found in bodies of freshwater such as lakes, streams or rivers. It only becomes a health concern if found in large quantities within these systems or if it is found in man-made water systems such as hot tubs, sink faucets, air conditioning systems, fountains, water features, or hot water tanks. Legionella bacteria can cause health issues to humans once it is in the form of water vapor. Once it enters the water vapor, it can be inhaled by humans which can potentially lead to legionellosis. In more rare cases, Legionella have been transmitted to the lungs from drinking water. This happens when an individual aspirates on drinking water and typically only occurs in individuals who have difficulty swallowing.
When we think of combustion engines and the pollutants they produce, we typically picture cars and trucks driving along the interstate. In fact, we rarely think that there would be contamination from these combustion processes inside of our homes and businesses. If you’ve ever noticed a black stain on your carpet, around your wall outlets, or near ventilation grates, you may have a carbon black or soot problem on your hands. Carbon black and soot can both pose a significant risk to the health of you and your family if left undetected and untreated.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, carbon black is a black residue that results from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuel such as oil or gas with a limited supply of combustion air and high temperatures. In the United States, carbon black is manufactured as a binding agent in rubber (specifically tires) and for use in household products with functions such as pigmentation, ultraviolet (UV) stabilization and use as a conductive agent. Carbon black can be found in black printing inks, paper, plastics, and surface coatings. It appears as a fluffy, highly pigmented, black powder. Because of its close physical and chemical similarity to soot, carbon black is thought to be carcinogenic and can possibly pose a risk to your health if inhaled. It is almost identical to soot in composition but contains more carbon as a result of its manufacturing process.