I remember one Christmas in grade school when I wanted a microscope, and I got one. I remember because it was the same year one of my sisters got a little electic organ(and I mean little!), which is what she was begging for. These were “big items” to us, and to our parents at the time. But, they were gifts that affected us the rest of our lives.

I used that microscope for years. I remember taking everything I could find and putting it on a slide to observe. Clothing, plants, fly wings, bird feathers, leaves. I discovered that pollen from each plant is unique, and collect pollen from every type of flower and checked it out. Water from a creek…lots of critters swimming around under the scope. I let it sit out side and equalized with the outside temperature so I could look at snowflakes one winter.

I graduated with a B. S. in Microbiology but I never really went into the field. I think I just enjoyed seeing the unseen world thru the scope. As a graduate student in Public Health, I had the opportunity to take an elective course in scanning electron microscopy.

At the controls of a scanning electron scope, 1982

I was attending the  Medical Center in Chicago, and the University of Illinois Circle Campus was only a short bus ride away. I was thrilled with the opportunity to use their research tool for my personal pleasure and get credit for it.

Pollen on the leg of a bee, 750X

The basics were to learn specimen preparation, and then produce good quality photos of 3 different items: a leaf, a fly, and mineral. I asked the teaching assistant if I could look at additional things. He said it would be fine…but was puzzled why anyone would want to do more work than they needed to. I spent many free hours that semester preparing specimens, photographing them, and saving the negatives. I think I was more interested in the creative aspect of  the “camera with a strong close up lens”!

Diatoms on coral, 2860x

I’m not saying that my childhood Christmas gift changed my life, but I think it did have a positive influence and maybe did help spur my later interests. It seems that gifts these days are often geared more to simple mindless pleasures.

Ant face, 60x

We all like the new technical gadgets: Ipods, cell phones, X-box, Wii, etc. But sometimes giving a child a book about one of their interests, a ticket to a professional sporting event that they also love, anything that could open their eyes to possibilities, or a new hobby etc….can not only be a fun gift, but affect them forever. (My sister went on to be a fantastic piano player, musician, and occasionally played organ in church for special occasions.)

What was your favorite gift, and why?