In the dark

Today I thought I would share my newest revelation about my current job/life situation. But first we have to talk about cameras. Why? Because I like cameras. And also because this is my blog and I say so.

So let’s start at the top.

My camera has two settings for focusing: auto and manual.

For autofocus, I tell the camera what to focus on and then it controls the lens and brings my subject into view. I use it almost all the time because it’s fast and usually the camera and I agree about what I want it to look at.

Sometimes I can’t use autofocus though. Sometimes the camera and I disagree about what should be drawing the viewer’s eyes. Sometimes, like when it’s dark outside, the camera has a really hard time “seeing” what I see, and it’s easier for me to just switch the camera to manual mode and focus for myself.

It can be a challenge. When I use manual focus, I often second guess myself about what “perfect” focus looks like. I bring my subject in and out of focus as I test the possibilities. It’s even harder when it’s dark and I can’t really see much better than the camera can.

Here are some examples:

Last summer, I noticed a bunch of birds sleeping in a tree by my house. It was so cute to see their little bird butts sticking out of the leaves, and I grabbed my camera to capture the moment. It was 10 pm. The camera said “I see a vague tree-like shape here… ummm… not really sure what you’re going for…” so I switched to manual, which was hard because I could barely see the birds myself! After some trial and error, I finally captured the birds the way I wanted them, and I left them alone to dream.

Why is that one bird on a branch all by itself?

This past weekend, Cobalt’s best friend T was hanging out in Seattle. So we headed “over the hill” and into the city. It was lovely! We talked books with T and his family, we ate an epic brunch with my sister, and then we hung out with my friends from grad school, Titanium and her boyfriend whom we will call “Iron.” Titanium and Iron took us on a ferry so we could go have dinner on Bainbridge Island. On the way back, we spent the majority of the ferry ride in the crazy cold wind outside because we wanted to witness the Seattle skyline draw closer and closer. I brought out my camera to photograph the skyline. That was pretty easy for autofocus: point camera at space needle. Camera sees the lit-up space needle against a dark sky. Camera brings space needle into focus. BAM. Picture.

But then I thought, hrm. How would I capture the fun we are having right now on this ferry? And I decided to take some pictures of Titanium and Iron. The lighting was not ideal for humans. It was 10 pm (again). Titanium and Iron were either backlit from the light inside the ferry or the Seattle skyline and my camera was not finding their faces. So I switched to manual focus. But again, the same problem with the birds popped up – it was hard for me to see when their features were that crisp though the eyepiece either.

This is where the story gets a little different. For the birds, I just used my on-camera flash to illuminate the birds once I got them in focus. This past weekend, however, I decided that since I was manually focusing in the dark, maybe I should play around with some of my camera settings. What would happen if I didn’t use my flash and instead turned the shutter speed waaaaay down (longer exposure=more time for light to illuminate Titanium and Iron)? Well Titanium and Iron would be blurry because we were on a moving boat. But maybe that would be a fun effect. Let’s try it. And so I did. And here are my pictures.

This one looks like I put a stocking over my lens to make the whole picture softer….

I was thinking about these pictures yesterday, and how much I enjoyed the fact that they were not “perfect” and crisp. I loved the blurriness and the crazy Seattle-skyline bokeh around Titanium. And that’s when I realized that this is how I feel about my life right now. I have a lot of education now (PhD, Scicomm certificate, lots of multimedia experience), and I’m not quite sure how I want to use it to make the world better. I have some idea what I want to do and where I want to end up. But it’s all pretty hazy. No real way for a camera to autofocus on it. So instead I’m using manual focus. And then the pictures come out like this – I can just make out my subject there smiling in the future. It’s there! And I’m coming for it.

If you give a girl a microscope

Be prepared for some crazy photos.

OK so I may be in science communication now but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about my microscopy roots. Sitting in front of a microscope and looking at cool biology is pretty much the main thing I miss about doing bench work. So when I found out that Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (where I am currently working) made a microscope for your smart phone, I knew I needed it.

You just download the pattern from PNNL’s website, 3D print the holder and put a bead on it to use as a lens. Voila. Microscope. And the baseline version magnifies things 100x!

Sign. Me. Up.

One of my coworkers is super into 3D printing right now. So on Friday I told him about my need for one of these microscopes. He left and came back with an already completed microscope that he found in his desk! :D

I put it on my phone and immediately started looking for things to inspect in closer detail. Like this stuffed shark eye (obviously I have stuffed sharks on my desk).

I like that you can see all the fur around his eye.

The lighting in my cubicle is not great for microscoping, however. Just like most things with lenses (cameras, microscopes, etc.), the more zoom or magnification you have, the more light you need. I packed up the microscope to save it for more adventures over the weekend.

Now it’s fun times for you. Below I’ve posted a variety of things that I imaged around my house. You should try to guess what they are. The answers may or may not be at the bottom (don’t cheat!).





    1. Whatever it is, it looks dirty. But I like the grid…
    2. I think this one is my favorite. It’s so artsy. Also hint: this one is the same object as what’s in the photo above it.
    3. “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”




1. Camping chair, 2. Potassium’s arm, 3. Living room carpet, 4. Kitty fur, 5. Also kitty fur, 6. Kitty ear (poor kitty), 7. Potassium’s shirt, 8. Shark towel, 9. Cobalt’s ear

I love all these pictures because they make science fun and artsy. I think that’s one reason I like microscopes in general. They give you a chance to marvel at how beautiful the world is, especially part of the world that you can’t normally see. Did you have a favorite image above? What would you want to look at up close? I think next I want to try some plants…

What did you do this weekend? Can you believe it’s almost October? I really need to get started on my Halloween costume. In other October news, I’m thinking about doing Inktober again on my Twitter account. I’d have to draw something every day of October. Could be fun…

Stay glassy, Seattle

This weekend, Cobalt’s sis and her kiddos (actually teenagers … !!!!) came to visit, and we went on a family trip to Seattle! We even met up with my sister so it was epic family time. Great fun. We went to the Space Needle, Pike Place, the Seattle Aquarium, and… the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum.

I went to college in Washington so I am well aware of Chihuly glass. One of the buildings at my school even had some of his artwork hanging in one of the windows! It looks a little like the glass in my photo on top. It’s always fun to see Chihuly glass out of the Pacific Northwest — once we found it on display in an Oklahoma airport! But I was excited to see what Seattle had to offer since Chihuly is actually from Washington (Tacoma, actually). So I went on a mission for some of Chihuly’s artwork that looked different from what I was used to. I was successful in my quest.

Inside the museum, there were some beautiful glass sculptures that looked like baskets, really nice eel and octopus sculptures, and other interesting creations. I really liked the way the art was staged and lit. It made for fun colors and reflections.

Eeeee Octopus!
I like this egg shape, though those yellow things are venturing into the usual Chihuly territory. I like their reflections a lot though.
I couldn’t really see into any of these so I stood on my tiptoes to take a picture of the inside.

Then we headed out into the garden part and I had fun playing with reflections! This museum sits right next to the Space Needle so you could see it reflected in the art. Fun times!

Double Space Needle…..
Let’s end on a romantic self portrait with the Space Needle in the background. <3

That’s all for today. Is there an artist from your state that you can recognize anywhere? How do you feel about the artwork?

Let’s talk about how to talk about science….

Soooooo I was getting ready to write a giant post that answered everyone’s questions about science when I realized how many of you responded by telling me that your eyes glaze over after 5 minutes of talking about science. Then I got worried – blogging is not so good for this type of conversation that I want us to have. It can very easily slip into me lecturing and you skimming because you feel like you are in over your head. I really want to be on the same page as you when I write these. I want you to know that you are talking to Potassium, the girl who likes sharks and whales and who likes taking pictures and being silly. Regardless of my role as the “scientist” in this conversation, I am still human, just like you (for an example – look how happy I am to see a fake dinosaur – below). So what do we do? How can we make this (awkward) medium work for us? Is there any way that I can write these posts in a way to make it more of a conversation? Let’s discuss!

Potassium with a new dino friend at the Dinosaurierpark in Münchehagen, Germany.

PS – Sorry for the super short super meta post about posting. I have been working super hard getting ready for the Thanksgiving break. Plus immediately after the break, my friend L and I are hosting a seminar speaker and we have been sending frantic e-mails out to everyone so that everything will be ready to go before everyone goes on break. Are you traveling for Thanksgiving? Cobalt’s and my families are coming to us! How exciting! :)

PPS – Let’s also set a schedule for these science posts. I want to post them regularly but I also want to make sure this blog is well rounded and I have room for photography and whatever other silly stuff I want to tell you about. What do you think is good for the science? Biweekly? Once a month?


Today’s fun with lights post involves stars! So now basically, I turned all my out of focus light into star shapes (instead of those pointy starbursts from Tuesday’s post). This is also done by messing with the aperture on a prime (non zoom) lens. Basically, I cut out a star shape on cardstock and taped it in front of my lens. Then I used a really wide aperture (refer to this lovely picture from Wikipedia if you need to refresh your memory from Tuesday – the top is a wide aperture and the bottom is a narrow aperture) to take all these pictures. This wide aperture + the star in front means that all of the out of focus light turned into the shape of stars instead of circles.

Anyway, below are some other fun examples of stars. The top is my Christmas lights again.

So I’m not sure how many of you know that I play trombone but I do (I used to play it a lot more in high school and college… boo grad school eating up all my time)! Here is my trombone covered in stars:

Fun with tealights and mirrors, part 1:

Fun with tealights and mirrors, part 2:

Yay! Shapes! What shape should I try next? My friend Jem has done this with music notes! Super cool idea! Do you guys have any fun plans for this weekend? This is my last full week in lab before Cobalt and I escape for the holidays so I will probably be working… :p

Fun with Christmas Lights!

I’ve decided that today’s and Thursday’s posts will be full of fun with lights! Today we focus on Christmas lights! I bought some purple Christmas lights (though they look red in these pictures…) this weekend and put them up around mine and Cobalt’s office. So immediately, the camera came out and I had to play with various settings. Today we are exploring starbursts! I briefly talked about them last week in my post about A but here’s how it works. If you have a prime lens (so it doesn’t zoom) and you set your aperture really narrow (= a small hole in the lens), any out of focus light will be the shape of the petals of the aperture (Click here for a picture of a large (top) and small (bottom) aperture from Wikipedia). So the smaller the aperture, the more starbursty the out of focus light becomes. It’s kind of fun to play with…

Anyway, here are a few more pictures of me playing with my Christmas lights…

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook have probably seen this one by now (It’s a self portrait taken with my awwwwesome remote control for my camera… TOTALLY worth the extra cash btw for those of you who are thinking of purchasing DSLRs… makes family pictures during the holidays SUPER fun/easy):

More starbursts:

Getting these Christmas lights was actually one of the highlights of my weekend. Life has been fairly ridiculous for us lately so anything that I can do to make our office/house more relaxing/comforting/etc is a huuuuge plus.

Tell me how you feel about Christmas lights! Do you like them? Hate them? How much is too much? I’ve seen a lot of people wrapping Christmas lights around just the tree trunks in their front yards this year… I’ve gotta tell you that I’m not so sure I’m a fan. It looks like a lit up post in the middle of a dark yard… :-/

Speaking of Christmas lights, here is my favorite picture I took with Instagram in downtown Denver this weekend:

Dropsy Turvy

Yay! A post! And one with crazy water droplets! The pictures in today’s post comes from last weekend when my friend Jem was in town and we gave each other various photo challenges. This one was by far the hardest because it requires dropping water into a bowl full of water and capturing the droplets falling and landing in the bowl. You have to have a lot of light so you can use high shutter speeds (so the drops don’t look blurry) AND you have to take hundreds of pictures so that you can at least get a few cool pictures. So the set up is pretty much as complicated as taking the actual picture. Jem and I made an impromptu light box and pretty much filled it with all sorts of lights. I think the best way to do this type of photography is to use an external flash but Jem and I didn’t have one so we had to improvise with a couple of desk lights, an overhead light in the room, etc. Anyway, then we set up the background behind the water (in the picture above, it is the sheet music – this picture was inspired by this one taken by Patrick Latter). Then we played with a variety of camera settings (longer and shorter shutter speeds, smaller or larger ISO and F numbers, her camera vs my camera), backgrounds, and the water itself (we added blue food coloring to the water at first and then some milk). Fun times.

The picture above and the pictures below are some of my favorite pictures from my camera.

What do you think? It’s craziness! I love how the pictures (which have been adjusted only for white balance and shadows) look ridiculously 70’s… So many colors…. How are you guys? It’s getting to be holiday season so I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions. Do you have any awesome traditions that you do every year? Is it something you’ve done forever with your family or is it something you and your spouse/significant other came up with? What’s the story behind it? I want to know everything! :D

Painting with the moon

Last night, Cobalt and I went out in search of auroras. We didn’t think CO would be cool enough to get auroras being pretty far south but we thought we would give it a try anyway. It turned out that even if there were auroras, the moon was soooooo bright that we probably wouldn’t have been able to see any anyway. Booo moon. But all hope was not lost! We hung out by moonlight and had ourselves a creepy (romantic?) hike above the town of Boulder. From that hike, I bring you our fun photography brainwave – moon painting! That’s right. This is the easiest kind of photography ever – You set your camera on a long exposure setting, point it at the moon and then run around! So what do you guys think? Awesome abstract art? Looks like a 3 year old did it? Reminds you of Ghostbusters? Let’s hear your comments! I kind of want to try it again and try to actually make shapes with the moon – like use your camera as a giant pencil? Hrmmm….

Below I used both the moon and Boulder for painting…

I hope you guys all have awesome weekends!

Fourth Week of Advent

I know… it’s been a LONG time since I wrote in here. I apologize for that. Grad school sucks up your creativity and time sometimes. Sad days.
Anyway, I am incredibly proud of this picture. So proud that I got on here and posted it for you all to see! Basically, I’ve been playing with the shapes of out of focus lights. I thought of it last week when we were at Denver zoo’s ZooLights and I had the f stop (depth of field) set very very low (higher sensitivity to light but very low depth of field… means that things not directly in the field of focus are not very much in focus). I noticed how easy it was to get any lights in the background to be big round dots and I thought it would be fun to try to change their shapes! So here we have all four advent candles lit and shining in the shape of stars… Stay tuned for more starry pictures…

Cell phone picture: What crazy creature is this?!

Yay! A post two days in a row! :) Today’s cell phone picture comes from my old room… I moved into a new house about a month ago and I took this picture as I was taking stuff off my old walls. Basically, it comes from a set of wall decals that you can use to make your room look super decorated. I was ripping them off my wall (they don’t like to come off in one piece apparently/sadly) when I decided that this chunk of wall decal actually looked kind of neat! Tada! A blog cell phone picture was born! :) I’ve decided that I don’t want to tell you what it actually is/used to be. Instead tell me what you think it looks like! :) I think it looks like a lurking creature or a guy in a scuba mask… Thoughts?