Electron Microscope Mystery 4

We’re back with another electron microscope mystery… Can you guess what this is? The image is 1 mm wide.

Update, 1:53p: Karon guessed ‘speakers,’ which is pretty close! It’s the metal mesh on one of my iPhone earbuds:


This week in baking: Blackberry Cupcakes

In celebration of her birthday, my good friend Angela threw a picnic for all her friends. I had a pile of blackberries at the ready, and so decided to experiment with a springtime cupcake recipe.

I started with Cook’s Illustrated white cake, but made some modifications. For the frosting, I made a standard buttercream icing, with blackberry and lemon zest. Spoiler alert: They are super-pink!

What you need for the cupcakes:

4 6 oz packs of blackberries
1/3 cup milk, at room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tsp lemon juice
2 1/4 cup cake flour, sifted
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks (12 tblsp) unsalted butter, softened

What you need for the icing:

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
3 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
(optional) 1 tblsp meringue powder or cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4+ cup blackberry puree (from the puree above)
1 tsp lemon zest

What to do:

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two muffin pans

– Puree the blackberries in a food processor or blender (I had only a mini-chopper, and had to do this in batches). Scrape the puree into a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Use a flexible spatula to push the blackberries through the sieve, leaving seeds behind. You should be left with 2/3 – 1 cup of clean, filtered puree. Set 1/4 or 1/2 cup aside for the frosting!

(Option: We saved a few whole blackberries to bake right in the centers of some cupcakes, and this was a tasty surprise for some people)

– In a small bowl, combine the puree, milk, egg, and lemon juice. Whip them up with a fork until they’re well-blended. Set aside.

– In a large bowl, add sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and mix (with hand mixer or stand mixer) to combine. Continue beating at slow speed and add the butter. Mix until combined and you’ve got moist crumbs.

– Add the liquids (over there in your small bowl) and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute or until evenly combined, scraping down the sides when you need to.

– Fill cupcake liners ~3/4 full.

(If you’re including whole blackberries in your cupcake centers, as we mentioned in the Option above, drop them into the centers of the cups at this point!)

– Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake center comes out clean. Set out to cool.

To make the frosting:

– Cream the butter and extracts until smooth using your mixer.

– Mix in confectioner’s sugar, meringue powder or tartar, if you’re using it, and the salt. Beat 2-3 minutes on high.

– Add the blackberry puree and beat for another minute. If the texture isn’t quite what you want, you can add confectioner’s sugar (to thicken) or water (to thin).

The frosting is pretty sweet, so you’ll likely only need a thin layer on each cupcake.


Electron Microscope Mystery 3

It’s time for the Third in my series of electron microscope mysteries (click to see One and Two).

The width viewed in the top image is ~ 100 microns (0.1 mm) and the bottom ~700 microns (0.7 mm). Can you guess what it is?

Note: Some of my DC friends have seen this before, so I ask them to kindly let others guess.

Update, 5:05p: Nice job, Callan! Staples on end is right:

A year from Iceland

A year ago this week, I was in Iceland, along with three very good friends. It was 20% work, in that I did a site visit to the Iceland Deep Drilling Project, and 80% fun, in that we drank good beer, walked between tectonic plates, floated around the Blue Lagoon for 5 hours, and generally had an amazing (and cold and windy) time.

Here are some highlights, though Brian, Heather, and Samer all took way better photos than I did.

from the top



H & B


fluffy dog


Cascadia from the sky

Last week, I was in Portland for the GeoPRISMS-EarthScope planning workshop for Cascadia. The meeting was fantastic, full of great science being talked about by great scientists. But it’s panel week at NSF, and I don’t have time summarize it at the moment, so I thought I’d just share some views from the way home.

Portland is conveniently located near several volcanoes, but Mt. Hood is the closest.

Mt. Hood

Can you see its volcanic neighbors in the background?

Mt. Hood



I can’t remember how far we’d gone when I saw this crazy meandering river, but I love everything about it…

crazy river

…and everyone loves a good contrail.



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.