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Egg++ and My USB Microscope

Something a little peculiar happened this morning. I cracked an egg into a (white) bowl for scrambling, and the albumen looked a little pink rather than clear. Blood, fersure, though I already knew (I don’t know why) that blood in an egg doesn’t necessarily mean that the egg was fertilized. However…next to the yolk was a little brown thing about 3/8″ long. It was about the right shape for an embryo, but it was too small to pick out any details. So…

…I cranked up my new USB microscope, which I got from Carol for my 65th birthday this summer. Worked like a champ:

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I’m no expert in chicken embryology, so this is still a guess, but I’ve never seen anything like it in an egg before. The pink in the albumen suggests blood, after all.

Here’s the setup I used to take the photo, which will show you the microscope and its focusing stage:

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Like any reasonable optical microscope (we have one from Carol’s college years in biology) it has a coarse focus (the knurled column attached to the metal base) and a fine focus on the end of the camera tube itself. It plugs into any USB port and draws whatever power it needs from the port.

The device shown above costs $77.95 from Amazon.

If you don’t think squicky blobby things do the instrument justice, here’s something on the hardware side. This is a surface-mount LM386 audio amp, measuring just a hair over 3/16″ long:


The imaging software I’m using (free) is called MiniSee, and it works tolerably well. Other packages exist, and as time allows I’m going to try them.

The real challenge with the microscope is lighting. Lighting makes a huge difference in the quality of the image coming in from the sensor. There are eight white LEDs in a circle around the sensor, with a brightness control built into the USB cable. These work well for looking into dark places (like the back of my mouth) but don’t do well with objects lying on the metal stage. A flat black background is useful, especially for metallic objects. I intuit that some sort of small gooseneck desk lamp would do the trick, and I’m looking.

The instrument comes with a number of plastic probe tips for looking at your ear canal, up your nose, and, well, where the sun don’t shine. The mini-CD wouldn’t spin up on my quadcore, and as it turns out I didn’t need it, given MiniSee. (One of the reviewers on Amazon claims it’s all in Chinese, anyway.)

Overall, I’m more than pleased, especially for something in the $75 price class. There may be better ones. I see quite a few on Amazon. But this one will do.

Oh…I scrambled the egg and ate it, once I picked out the embryo. What’s a little chicken blood when dinner generally hits the table medium-rare and still dripping?


  1. Jim Dodd says:

    Did you try putting it on a clear base (like a glass slide) with light coming from underneath? That’s how most old optical microscopes worked when I was in school. I’m one year older than you.

    1. We have a 1966-era student lab microscope of the usual design, and in truth, getting the light right with that one is no cakewalk. I don’t have a jig for bringing light up from underneath a slide, though with the junkpile I have out in the garage it wouldn’t be much of a trick. The magnification on the USB instrument isn’t anywhere near as high as our lab scope, and we’re not going to be looking at protozoans or anything else measured in microns. It’s more like an inspection microscope, and with those the specimen is generally lit from above.

      Like I said, I’m looking for a small gooseneck lamp to become part of the overall setup, and may build a jig from wood or plastic to hold it all together. Once I do, I’ll report back here, with photos.

  2. Larry Nelson says:

    Here is a concept that can work well when you aren’t lighting up through the bottom of a slide on a microscope:

    Just cut the bottom of a milky plastic cup and set that over the subject. Then shine a gooseneck or flashlight or two onto the side of the cup from different directions.

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    Breakfast at a “vile hotel”…

    “Octoroon coffee and shiny eggs
    Semi-equipped with beaks and legs…”

    — Ogden Nash

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