Sunday, December 25, 2016

Reasonable cost mycology microscope

I am currently setting up a small micro lab at home as I am taking care of someone on medical leave.  I wanted to find a reasonably good quality microscope that allowed me to read samples but cost less than $1000.  I settled on an AmScope T720 40X-1000X Plan Infinity Kohler Laboratory Trinocular Compound Microscope from Amazon and purchased it with regular shipping for less than $600. 

The trinocular scope has a 10x eyepiece with 4x 10x 20x 40x and 100x Plan nose pieces.  I stayed away from the 20x eyepiece on other models as any magnification without oil over 400x tends to be a bit blurry.  The 200x magnification really speeds up a scan of the field with a bit more clarity than the 10x and more area than the 400x,  The LED light works well as does the stage operation. I may later purchase a digital camera for the top mounted lens.

One minor issue with the scope.  It does not maintain perfect focus when transitioning between different magnifications.  On the plus side it has eye correction adjustments for both eyepieces.  The field of vision is good and the ergonomics of the scope is sound even though I chose not to pay for a model with a tilting eye piece.

Alternaria spp. and Penicillium spp. spores 200x - N.Carlson

The above photo was taken with a Samsung Galaxy S-5 smart phone through the eyepiece of the microscope with magnification at 200x.  This is definitely good enough to pick out spores during an initial scan of both and Air-o-cell cassette trace or a tease tape sample. This was a tease tape sample taken from a swab. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Foldscope kickstarter program

Foldscope microscope -

Foldscope has launched a Kickstarter program for its next round of origami foldable microscopes with a 140x lens.  Sign up at Foldscope Kickstarter to purchase the microscope.  The lower cost sponsorships are no longer available.  Microscopes in lots of 20 can still be obtained for less than $2 per scope.  The current low cost project is $30 for a teacher's kit.  It includes 20 microscopes plus a teacher microscope with case.  The cost for shipping will vary depending on the location. 

I recently used this Foldscope in the field as part of a mold investigation.  I magnetically attached a Foldscope  to a Samsung S-5 cellphone.  The researcher and our Facilities Management representative could then view the magnified image of the mold Cladosporium spp. growing on the supply diffuser.  

Supply diffuser with suspected mold growth.

Original Foldscope image unmagnified

Foldscope image of Cladosporium spp. magnified and enhanced with Adobe Photoshop Elements 12.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

FLIR ONE photo options

Full color spectrum IR image from FLIR-One infrared camera

The FLIR ONE infrared camera for Android and i-phone offers several imaging options to emphasize one part of the image.  Sometimes simplifying an image helps to focus attention on either a hot spot or a cold spot in the frame. The first image above shows the full color default infrared setting. The next two images emphasize the coldest and warmest spots in the image.

Blue cold area by open window

Red hot area by supply air diffuser from a forced air furnace

Saturday, September 24, 2016

FLIR ONE IR camera for Android and iOS

Flir One reflected IR image off of glass in an office - N. Carlson

The FLIR ONE Thermal Imager for Android uses the USB input from the camera to take infrared photos with visual light outlines.  Without the outlines it is sometimes difficult to orientate to the objects that are being photographed. An iphone version is also available FLIR ONE Thermal Imager for iOS.

Pros: The cost is reasonable. It varies around $200 to $250 USD. from Amazon or other retailers. Stand alone units cost 2 to 10 times as much.   The camera charges in one hour using a standard android USB charger.  The cable is included, but the plug in is not. A small case with a lanyard is provided.  Instructions are online.  Two additional connections are included to allow the FLIR ONE to be connected to the camera at different orientations.  The infrared images are clear and the spot temperature reading in both Celsius and Fahrenheit is useful.  It also shoots videos.

Cons: The infrared camera app interface is a bit buggy. The initial USB interface often displays an error message before working.  The camera image also sometimes freezes.  The camera works best when the temperature cross hairs are turned on.  It worked on my Samsung 5 SM-G900A camera Android version 5.1.1.  It did not work on my LG Leon with running on Android version 5.1.1.

Interesting features:  After taking a photo, the image can be reviewed in the FLIR ONE app.  If the image is finger swiped up or down the natural light image is revealed below.

Heat left over on sofa seats after the people have left - N. Carlson
The image of the photographer is reflected in the window opened at the bottom - N. Carlson
A device is hooked up to a power strip pulling phantom power.  I unplugged it after taking this picture. - N. Carlson

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Paecilomyces spp.

Paecilomyces spp. growing in a malt extract agar culture plate - N. Carlson
Paecilomyces spp. microscopic photo - N. Carlson

Paecilomyces spp. in culture - N. Carlson

The organism, Paecilomyces spp. is structurally similar to Glocladium spp.(Trichoderma spp.), Penicillium spp. and Scopulariopsis spp.  The tendency of the conidia to be produced in chains and angle off at a 45 degree angle from the phialide separates it from the other three.  Even though the tan flat colonies of Paecilomyces spp. and Scopulariopsis spp. colonies appear to be similar on culture plates, the round rough spores of Scopulariopsis spp. differ substantially from often smooth oval shaped Paecilomyces spp. spores.  

This organism is less frequently picked up in culturable air samples then Penicillium spp. It grows well in compost and rotting food. According to EMLab P&K, it can cause both allergies and hypersensitivity pneumonitis.  The organism is rarely pathogenic individuals even though it can grow at 37 degrees Celsius.  There is a potential for hospital acquired (nosocomial) infections in immune compromised individuals. 

On a spore trap sample the Paeciliomyces spp. spores would be classified as Asp/Pen like. 

Paecilomyces spp. - Mold 2 min.

Torula spp.

Torula spp. from air sample - N. Carlson

From my experience, the yeast Torula spp. is occasionally found in outdoor air samples.  The spores will typically be in chains of three or more with one of the cells broken in half at one end. 

The organism can be identified using tease tapes or a spore trace sample (Air-o-Cell).  It grows on cellulose material (oats, straw, and wicker etc.)  and is reported by EMLab P&K to be allergenic and not pathogenic to humans.

Bagpipes cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis

Mold species in Bagpipes photo from

From the Washington Post, a British bagpipes player died from hypersensitivity pneumonitis (wikipedia) after suffering gradually deteriorating health for seven years. Doctors never made the connection with his love for bagpipes and his chronic respiratory problems.  His health improved briefly during a three month trip to Australia as he left his bagpipes behind.  It declined upon his return home.

Tests of his bagpipes found three genera of molds including Rhodotorula spp., Penicillium spp., and Fusarium spp. This case raises the importance of proper cleaning of musical instruments after use and the importance of getting a proper medical history for a person's occupation and outside recreational interests.

Lung problems with musical instruments - Adam Fleming BBC news - 2 min. 

Hypersenitivity Pneumonitis Bagpipes - 2 min. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sisyphus Railroad renewable energy storage by ARES North America

ARES North America - The Power of Gravity

ARES technology

One of the challenges for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar is the episodic nature of the power generation when the wind stops blowing and the sun sets or there is cloud cover.  There are several options for energy storage that include batteries, compressed gas, flywheel, water pumping up a gradient, and conversion to hydrogen through electrolysis.

ARES technology is working on a rail system that converts the potential energy of a change in height elevation into electricity.  Electrical energy from wind or solar is used to send rail weighted cars up a steep gradient.  When the cars are released back down the gradient the change from potential to kinetic energy is captured by regenerative braking on the cars with an efficiency of around 75%.  ARES currently has a pilot project in Bakersfield California and hopes to set up similar projects around the world where the topography is favorable.

Silent video on ARES technology as clouds move over a solar array - 2 min.

News report on the process - 3 min.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Minnepura - Using bacteria in silica beads to clean water contaminated with chemicals

The National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer (NCET2) listed Minnepura Technologies Inc. as one of the "Best University Startups 2016."  Minnepura uses bacteria inside silica beads to break down dangerous chemicals in water into non hazardous byproducts.  The bacteria are specifically selected for the chemicals that need to be decontaminated.

The technology is based on published research by Alptekin Aksan, Ph.D.  Mechanical Engineering and Larry Wackett, Ph.D. Professor of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics who also serve as technical advisors.

In December of 2013, Larry Wackett, Ph.D. presented information about this process to our departmental retreat. He discussed using this process to decontaminate water used in the oil fracking process.

Minnepura CEO Paul R. Hansen - 3 min. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

School Indoor Air Quality Training - Minnesota Department of Health

The Minnesota Department of Health is conducting ‘School Indoor Air Quality Trainings’ statewide and via webinar this Fall. The details are attached and also available at the MDH site :

Public schools must have health and safety programs that comply with health, safety, and environmental regulations and best practices, including indoor air quality (IAQ) management. This training will discuss the state’s best practices for school IAQ management, which include having an IAQ Coordinator and an IAQ Plan. Non-public schools are also encouraged to have an IAQ Plan and attend this class.

Registration for this class is required. Individual classes may be canceled if registration is low.

To register, please complete the enclosed registration form and mail or email to:
Minnesota Department of Health, Indoor Air Unit, PO Box 64975, St. Paul, MN 55164-0975
Where and When:
St. Cloud: September 22, 2016 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Minnesota Department of Health
Midtown Square 
3333 West Division Street, Suite 212 
St. Cloud, MN 56301

Bemidji: September 23, 2016 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Minnesota Department of Health
705 - 5th Street NW, Suite A, Bemidji, MN 56601

Roseville: October 5, 2016 8:30 am – 12:00 pm
Minnesota Department of Education
Room CC17, 1500 Highway 36 West Roseville, MN 55113

North Mankato: October 12, 2016 8:30 am – 12:00 pm
South Central Service Cooperative
2075 Lookout Drive, North Mankato, MN 56003

Roseville: October 25, 2016 8:30 am – 12:00 pm
Minnesota Department of Education
Room CC17, 1500 Highway 36 West Roseville, MN 55113

Webinar: October 11, 2016 1:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Email with instructions will be sent to webinar registrants

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Phoma spp.

The organism, Phoma spp., is a member of the coelomycete (EmLab P&K) fungi that produce spores inside a pycnidia.  The spores are produced inside this hollow structure with an opening on top in an arrangement similar to a kiwi fruit or a pomegranate.

In buildings, this organism will often grow on slab on grade carpet with moisture problems.  It is a plant pathogen in tropical to temperate climates.  The single celled spores are unremarkable in structure and not differentiated on Air-o-cell cassette samples. The organism is may be allergenic. 

The organism grows best on media with higher water activity such as MEA.  It does not grow well on DG-18. 

The organism, Phoma spp. growth in MEA - N. Carlson
Surface of Phoma spp. shot from above - N. Carlson
Microscopic photo of Phoma spp. at lower magnification - N. Carlson
Low magnification Phoma spp. - N. Carlson
High magnification microscopic photo of Phoma spp. some species produce Alternaria spp. like spores. - N. Carlson

Phoma - Spirit of the Moon - Technomusic-  No relation to the fungal organism - 7.5 minutes

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Scopulariopsis spp.

The organism, Scopulariopsis spp. looks microsopically similar to Penicillium spp. and Paecilomyces spp. The tan colony color differentiates the organism from most Penicillium spp.  The Paecilomyces spp. colonies are typically spreading and not as heaped as the Scopulariopsis spp. colonies. The Paecilomyces spp. spores are often comma shaped.

The mature spores of Scopulariopsis spp. are often rough.  The spores are produced in chains from a conidiophore (Fungi Online).  The base of the spore producing structure forms a ring as each spore is produces.  One end of the spore is flat with the other end round.
The spores can occasionally be distinguished between Asp/Pen spores on an Air-o-cell cassette sample if the spores are in chains.  The rough spore plus the flat point of attachment help in identification.  The spores are approximately 3 to 8 microns in diameter and will deposit in all areas of the respiratory tract.

Special note: The organism is capable of converting the arsenic found wallpaper covered with Paris Green into arsine gas.  In Italy during the 1890's over 1,000 children's deaths were linked to a combination of Paris Green wallpaper and mildew.  (History Magazine)  The deaths stopped once the wallpaper was removed.  Mildew in this sense was used as a term to describe mold in general and not a particular type of fungus also known as mildew.

Scopulariopsis spp. - N. Carlson

Scopulariopsis spp. line drawing - N. Carlson

What does Scopulariopsis mean - 30 sec.

Scopulariopsis spp. - 2 min.  Health Homes Inc.

Pithomyces spp.

Spores of Pithomyces spp. are fairly common in outdoor air samples.  The spores can sometimes be differentiated from Ulocladium spp. as the spores have a definite attachment point with a small transparent frill at one end.  The other end of the spore is round.  As the spores mature the exterior becomes roughened with small spines. 

The organism will grow on textiles, paper and wood products inside buildings.  It will grow on dead trees, and dead grass in the outdoors.  It can cause facial eczema in ruminants eating contaminated grass. 

The barrel shaped spores are approximately 15 to 25 microns in length and 10 to 15 microns in width.  These larger sized spores will deposit in the upper respiratory tract.   

A photo of Pithomyces spp. at various stages of growth on a culture plate - N. Carlson

Mature dark colored spiny Pithomyces spp. spores in culture - N. Carlson
Pithomyces spp. from an Air-o-cell cassette spore trap - The spore is dessicated (dried out ).  It looks similar in color and shape to root beer barrel candy.  - N. Carlson

Pithomyces spp. spore line drawing with frill at the attachment point - N. Carlson

Pithomyces spp. information - 2 min.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Curvularia spp.

Curvularia spp. - This spore typically has three septations (Websters Dictionary) with one middle cell larger than the other three when viewed from the proper orientation.  The organism is readily grown on culture plates and easily viewed using an spore trace sample.  Because the spore is often greater than 20 microns in length it will deposit in the upper respiratory tract. Due to the large size it also falls out in the air rather quickly and requires mechanical disturbance  to keep it in the air.   It is not uncommon to find it in an outdoor air sample when snow cover is not present.  

The organisms grows on cellulose based interior surfaces with water damage. Outdoors it grows on vegetation and decaying vegetation. 

The colony growth on culture plates is somewhat similar to Alternaria spp.  Viewing the colony under higher magnification will easily allow differential identification.  It grows well on malt extract agar.

Single Curvularia spp. spore - approx. 30 microns in length - N.Carlson
Production of Curvularia spp. spores at various stages of maturity. An air bubble is often present in one of the cells. - N. Carlson
Multiple Curvularia spp. spores - Note that there will occasionally be 4 septations or 5 cells in a spore. - N. Carlson

Curvularia spp. growth on culture plate - N. Carlson

Curvularia spp. information from Health Homes - 2 min.

Turning carbon dioxide into stone

Scientific American - Iceland powerplant

An Iceland power plant is turning carbon emissions into stone ( - June 9, 2016.   Recent studies have found that carbon dioxide injected with water into basalt rock formations turns to stone much more quickly than previously thought.  The minerals in the basalt react with the carbon dioxide in the water to form calcium carbonate and other rocks.  The process was over 90% efficient over a 2 year period.  This surprised scientists as they expected the process to take much longer. 

Turning the carbon dioxide into limestone reduces the problems with injecting the carbon dioxide into structures that just capture the gas.  There have been concern over the rapid release of this gas into the atmosphere if there are leaks in the structure.

Downsides: The process resquires heavy use of water and injection the solution is not cheap. Some microbes may produce methane gas as an unintended bi-product of the process.  Seafloor injection of carbon dioxide into basalt or other rock formations may work better.  This eliminates the need for fresh water.  As basalt makes up over 10% of the earth's crust, this may be a process that could work at many locations.

Other research has focused on using the carbon dioxide to speed up the efficiency of algal production of fuel.  Other engineering firms are exploring the use of carbon dioxide for building carbon fiber autobody parts.

Turning carbon dioxide into stone - 1 min. BBC - 2016

MIT grad student studies ophiolite rock structures in Oman, Jordan to understand natural carbon capture.  - 7 min. - 2009

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Electric shock drowning

Electric Shock Drowning - Boat US
Good Morning America reports on the hazards of electroshock drowning.   Electroshock drowning is a  relatively rare event with 15 reported US cases in the past five years.  In freshwater or in low salt water areas along the ocean, An electrical ground fault from a boat attached to a dock can produce an electric current in the water.  A swimmer in the water may conduct the current and be shocked sometimes resulting in death.

Prevention begins with installing Ground Fault Interrupter Outlets at boat docks.  Swimming anywhere near a dock without this circuit poses a potential hazard.  Attempting to rescue a person without shutting off the current may result in additional fatalities or injuries.

Electric Shock Drowning facts - Boat US -3 minutes

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Reason to sample close to a source during a mold investigation

Below grade abandoned electrical outlet

SAS 180 air sampler
Air sample in control area

Air sample in room using DG-18 Outside air and hallway control on right
Air samples below the floor DG-18
Indoor air samples for 100 liters were taken in a below grade room.  Occupants in the space reported a musty odor.  Air samples in the breathing zone did not find a problem.   Air samples below the floor had elevated levels of Aspergillus spp. and Penicillium spp.  Outside air sample 50 liters. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cell phone Infrared camera -FLIR One

FLIR-ONE infrared image of classroom just after students left - N. Carlson
The above image shows dark seats where students did not sit and purple colored seats where students were sitting at a class where I had just been a guest lecturer.

I am currently weighing the purchase of two low cost IR camera attachments. A FLIR One and a Seek thermal imager.  The models that can be used on some android phones and other models that can be used on most i-phones.  Because of the location of the charger on some android phones it will be necessary to use cord to allow camera to attach to the phone. The FLIR One needs a battery to operate the Seek does not.  The FLIR has better image quality with a wider field of view.  The Seek has a wider temperature range.

Amazon has the FLIR ONE Thermal Imager for Android available for less than $300.

FLIR-ONE versus SEEK infrared camera - 3 minutes

Jet air driers disperse viruses

Fortune Magazine reports on a study of virus dispersion comparing drying with warm air, drying with a towel and Jet air drying.    The mechanical energy provided by the jet air drier dispersed non infectious viral particles in the air 60 times more than warm air driers.  The safest method was a paper towel.  The warm air dryer distributed more viral particles than paper towels but less than the jet drying model.

Jet air drier particle distribution - TOMO news - 1 min.