'Couch Microscopy' is Instagram hit

Editorial

Rebecca Pool

Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 12:45
Insect larva; just one of many stunning images from Rutgers University student, Julia Van Etten.
 
Armed with a $315 optical microscope and Instagram, PhD student, Julia Van Etten, from Rutgers University-New Brunswick, US, has revealed breathtakingly detailed videos and photos of diatoms, algae, plankton and more, all collected from New Jersey bodies of water.
 
Julia Van Etten
 
Van Etten’s 'Couch Microscopy' page has attracted nearly 18,000 followers in a year and a half, and has garnered attention from scientists, artists and everyone in between.
 
“Major research groups are going to the ends of the earth to search for diverse beautiful species to uncover and of course that’s really important, but there are literally undiscovered species right in our backyards that need to be found as well,” says Van Etten. “I love capturing them as both a scientist and an artist.” 
 
Tardigrade with eggs. [Julia Van Etten]
 
Her images are now the basis for a research and teaching project at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Genome Cooperative, established by Van Etten’s doctoral advisor, Debashish Battacharya, to support rapid growth in genomics study and research at the university. 
 
Green algae. [Julia Van Etten]
 
“We want Julia to lead research on understanding the diversity of local algae and learning how to adapt it for human needs,"explains Bhattacharya. "This is similar to work from ExxonMobil and other companies that are seeking to use algae for fuel production and other applications.”
 
Gloeotrichia colony. [Julia Van Etten]
 
Van Etten began sharing images of microorganisms on her Instagram page in July 2017, after late-stage Lyme disease forced her to delay her start date at Rutgers for a year.
 
Unable to spend time studying algae out in the field, she worked on locally collected samples and viewed them with a home microscope; hence the name “Couch Microscopy.”
 
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