31 July 2009

Behind-the-scenes look at sea anemones!

Today I dropped by the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research and Dr Daphne and Dr Tan Swee Hee and Ivan were in lab coats looking very scientific.
They have been very hard at work processing all the sea anemones that we discovered on our anemone hunts. And I got a glimpse of what they have been up to the last few days.

Dr Daphne shares a quick look at what goes on after a field trip. First all the anemones are treated in this piece of equipment that reminds me of a mega coffee machine.
Then they are embedded in paraffin, a kind of wax. They look like little candies!
Then they are carefully sliced in this other machine.
Dr Daphne makes it look easy and fun to slice and dice. But it's not as straightforward as it looks. It's an art to be able to get the slices just right and to stick together in a nice flat sheet.
The sliced stuff is placed on a glass slide and these slides are then placed in various kinds of fluids, to get rid of the paraffin, to stain the tissues and then to remove the excess stain. The stain is a special recipe that takes time to prepare and is very precious.
All of these have to done in precisely timed intervals. And Ivan is looking after this.
On the table, there's a diagram of the whole series of glass tanks and what fluids go into them.
Then there is the fiddly part of mounting the slide with 'mountant'. Dr Daphne makes it look so easy.
Which results in marvellous slides of cutaway nems! These slides are archival and will last for years and years.They have made lots and lots of slides!
These slides can then be placed under a microscope to have a look at all the tiny features that help determine exactly what kind of anemone it might be.The team has been working non-stop on this process in the days after the field trip was over. Wow!

Dr Daphne also took some time to show me on her computer the amazing glass anemones made by the Blaschkas. This father and son team of artisans created anatomically correct glass models (in shape and colour) of a vast variety of plants and animals from 1887 through 1936. These models were used for teaching and were not decorative pieces. The models included many sea anemones, as well as invertebrates such as worms!

The Harvard Museum of Natural History also has a display of their glass flowers including enlarged models of tiny flowers of grasses! Their work is held by other museums too. Stunning! I always learn so much from Dr Daphne.

Well, tonight is Friday and it's time for a little R&R. We get together with the rest of the Anemone Army for a nice dinner.
We reminisce over the field trips, looking at photos in everyone's cameras.And James of course is always taking more photos.
Here's another look at our Anemone Commanders. Dr Tan Swee Hee and Dr Daphne Fautin having a closer look at our anemones on Cyrene Reef.
In this photo taken by James Koh and posted on the Raffles Museum News blog.

And here's a photo of some of the Anemone Army shared by Andrea. We entirely forgot to take group photos throughout the trip, until Andrea reminded us on our last outing. Thanks Andrea!
We sure had a lot of fun on the Anemone Hunts. It was hard work, but the company was great! And it was most educational and inspiring too!

Andrea and Dr Daphne head out for the Maldives this weekend, but will have a short trip back to Singapore after National Day. We will sure miss them.

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