Baby Animal March Squee Madness!

After 4 days, 382 votes, and at least 15 arguments about how the hedgehog was robbed, I give you the 2012 March Squee Champion: PIGGEH!

The little pink bit of adorableness beat Siku the polah bear by 34 votes (27%) and joins last year’s champion, Butterstick the panda, on my Wall of Squee. Congratulations, little guy!

Thanks to everyone who voted, cheered, ridiculed, and of course SQUEEed through the last week – it was a blast. We’re already compiling competitors for next year!

Posted March 22, Round 3 summary:

Well folks, it’s come down to this:

Representing the Western Conference, weighing in at 60 pounds, we have the hope of the Great White North: The polah bear. He enjoys snow, ice, swimming, and devouring seals. He battles our Eastern Conference champion: Piggeh. Weighing a massive 5 pounds, this tough little guy enjoys making friends with spiders, and occasionally hunting for truffles. Who will be Squee Champion?! You have until 9:00p EDT to decide!

Posted March 21, Round 2 summary:

Round 2 was intense! Two contests narrowly avoided ties by 2 points each; sloth vs. penguin, and pygmy goat vs. red panda. I really thought the pygmy goat was going to advance, but in the last 20 minutes, the red panda had a surge of votes. The pink-tongued white bear handily beat the koala, and the biggest win was by that adorable pink bit of piggeh over our only underwater creature, the hippo. As a side note, I feel the need to point out that all of the animals in the Final 4 start with letter P! Now, decide the final matchup, vote immediately! Or at least before 9:00p EDT!

Posted March 19:

It’s March Madness time, which, for those of us who care nothing for basketball, means it’s time for the Baby Animal March Squee Madness Bracket!!! This year’s finals will happen over 4 days (a change from last year’s single-day event).

Because I realize it’s hard to fully appreciate the baby animal cuteness in those small photos, here’s a look at the competitors:

Electron Microscope (non-)Mystery 2

I have been swamped, both in the office and in life, but I wanted to share another favorite electron microscope image. This is a crack in a rough, scratched, metal surface:

Which to my eyes looks very much like a river gorge and delta, with all the water stripped away (like, say, the Nile):

But really, it’s just a worn out soldering line in a long-worn, much-loved silver ring.

Electron Microscope Mystery 1

Before I became a federal funder, I ran a beautiful environmental scanning electron microscope (E-SEM). Unlike the binocular microscope you probably peered into as a student, an SEM uses electrons, not light, to produce an image. Because electrons are so tiny, you can see things at a much higher magnification than you can with light.

Other reasons electron microscopes are cool include 1)¬†things closer to the beam appear lighter, and things further, darker (as though they’re in ‘shadow’) giving the appearance of 3-dimensionality, and 2) materials made of heavier elements have a higher contrast (and appear brighter) than materials made of lighter elements (which appear darker). For example, if you looked at an object made of aluminum (Al) and lead (Pb) stripes, the Pb lines would be brighter than the Al stripes.

For decades, electron microscopy required that samples be very small, polished flat,¬†and coated in something conductive, like gold or carbon. An ‘environmental’ SEM, however, has a huge chamber, within which you can put a range of materials of varying shapes:

Left photo from John Pinizzotto: .... Right photo from/of me.

When I met my first E-SEM over 4 years ago, I needed to see what materials and shapes fit in the chamber, and which responded well enough to the beam to get good images. So like any good scientist, I experimented. These experiments resulted in a collection of electron microscope images of everyday objects, and I quickly realized the joy that comes with making friends guess what the objects were, based on high-magnification electron images. I ran this series on Flickr for a while, years back, but thought I would resume the fun here.

Thus, I give you #1 in the Electron Microscope Mystery series. The image below is about 70 microns across (0.007 cm). Can anyone guess what this is? I’ll update later in the day with a wider field of view.

Update at 1:20p: Added two views, each zoomed out a bit more (the width of the last is about 0.7mm wide…

Update at 2:40p: It’s been solved! These are ink particles pressed into paper fibers. The sort of pointed shape you see is the point of an upside-down letter M: