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Life can be a beautiful thing, especially when the most minute details of it can be seen in your science classroom. It’s even better when it’s shared with the world at large on social media.

The Chehalis Foundation gifted a TESCAN VEGA3 scanning electron microscope to W.F. West High School in 2013. The first classes dedicated to the usage of the microscope and its application in science began when the 2014-15 school year kicked off.

Only nine students get to take that class, but those wondering what the class looks at can get a pictorial window into their studies on Twitter. The account dedicated to the microscope can be found @wfw_sem on the social networking site.

Photos of anything and everything seen through the lens of the high-powered machine are uploaded. A computer attached to the microscope makes colorizing and sending photos to the Twitterverse easy.

A spider leg magnified to show barbs. Filament from tungsten wire looping around seemingly endlessly. Even a Dorito chip made it on there and even received a “favorite” from the @Doritos social media account.

“We found out it didn’t include real salt,” science teacher Krista Wilks quipped.

Nate Wilks, a recent W.F. West graduate and Wilks’ son, is the brain behind the account. He works as a temporary paraeducator before he has to head off to college in Bellingham late next week.

The younger Wilks has come up with some creative ways of displaying pictures from the microscope since he began posting Monday.

“With this, you can look at anything, and it looks awesome,” he said. “It’s easy to lose track of time and just want to take 20 pictures.”

So he channels that desire into his Twitter posts. Sometimes, Wilks posts random observations from the studies into the microscope, such as a humorous tweet from early Wednesday morning.

“If you freak out when you walk through a spider web you should feel bad because it is only nanometers thick,” the tweet read.

Through all the humor, there’s a point — multiple points, in fact — to using Twitter to showcase what students are looking at. Krista Wilks, who has taught science at W.F. West for 10 years, said it serves to show the public what students are studying and provide a “cool” factor, and also reaches young people where they are at with a product that is fresh, new, and unique to Lewis County.

“It’s a good way to show people beyond town what’s going on,” Wilks said.

Payton Rothlin, a 17-year-old senior taking the electron microscope class, says her fascination with viewing still life under a microscope hasn’t wavered. She brought in a pill bug and an ant to view, while junior Ashley Short brought a mosquito and a moth head for scrutiny.

“You get to see a lot of detail in things you normally would only look at for a second,” Rothlin said.

The novelty will wear off at some point, but Wilks said that’s where the lesson plan will need to morph from simply using the device. It will eventually likely grow to fit right in with science curriculum being
taught, and the class is bound to grow in popularity, Wilks said.

For now, even for the “wow” factor, the @wfw_sem account, which only has 40 followers, is bound to grow as interest in the science program does too. After all, who wouldn’t want to look at still life through one of the most advanced microscopes in a high school?

“We’re excited to see what projects this leads to,” Wilks said.

Written by: Christopher Brewer :: cbrewer@chronline.com :: (360) 807-8235

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