Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The private life of lotuses

I didn't know till this morning that lotuses - specifically the Sacred Blue ones - are still able to germinate after 1300 years dormancy.

Something else I didn't know till the first time I visited the US three years ago is that Albany (which is where I am at the moment) is the capital city of New York State. I'm here to work on various projects with my scientist collaborator, Sam. Today, we dissected an approximately nineteen year-old lotus pod (a mere infant) that I harvested from a pond in a Cape Town park during the years my family still lived in South Africa. 

Sam shaved off enough of the outer husk to free two rather shriveled-looking seeds from their protective chambers: we placed these seeds onto an aluminum 'stub' and popped them into an hermetically-sealed 'sputter-coater' where a fine layer of gold was deposited onto their surfaces (a necessary process for most specimens designated for scrutiny by a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).). Specimens need to be coated with gold because the surfaces of most biological materials are effectively transparent to the electron beam generated by the SEM. There are two detectors in the SEM chamber creating signals from electrons traveling off the gold-coated specimen. These are used to make up images. Without this coating of gold, the electron beam would penetrate deep within the specimen rather than imaging the surface. 

We spent a good few hours examining and recording the seeds' structure and surfaces via the eye and mechanism of this powerful instrument. I took half a dozen videos over the course of the afternoon and have been trying to upload one so you can see how exciting this method of observation can be... but, ah me - having not uploaded a video onto this blog for a wee while, I can't for the life of me remember how to do it. You'd think I'd know better having just been taught a whole raft of new film and video-related skills! (And why is this paragraph being underlined all of a sudden, I wonder?) Perhaps because it's late. I'm going to call it a day and give things another go tomorrow when I've had a good sleep.   

Meantime, here are a few stills showing the complex landscape of a very small lotus seed -

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