How Desirée Moffitt connects a growing community to the hidden gems of our world
Desirée Moffitt has a knack for exploring the unseen beauty of everyday life and, with her microscope in hand, shares it with 48,000 Instagram followers. From investigating the protozoan gut community in invasive smokybrown cockroaches to crystallized hemoglobin inside a woodtick, Moffitt leaves no stone unturned. We spoke with her about her microscopy journey, why she shares her images online, and her favorite samples.
Please introduce yourself!
I have an MS in biology from Appalachian State University where I studied population and community ecology, as well as disease dynamics in terrestrial salamanders. I currently work from home as a distance education instructor, which gives me a little extra time to find juicy water samples!
How did your love of microscopy begin – and what sparked your interest in sharing it on Instagram?
My interest in microscopy began when I enrolled in my first biology class at community college. My instructor was super supportive of my interest in science and encouraged me to come into the lab during office hours to use the class microscopes. It took me almost 20 years to get my own microscope but I finally bought a Motic BA410E in 2021.
From there I quickly became obsessed with water samples and started dreaming of upgrading my microscope. The upgrade I wanted was retailing for a little over $30k. I have kids and a mortgage, so there was no justifying that kind of purchase. It did eventually occur to me that preloved microscopes existed so I should explore that option. It felt like a sign when I found a company that specialized in used lab equipment just an hour from my house. I was nervous about buying a used microscope, but when I got to their warehouse it became clear they were a very legitimate business. I left that day with an Olympus BX51 with DIC and have had no regrets. (Quick shoutout to Chad at Munday Scientific!).
Do you have a favorite specimen or type of sample you enjoy studying?
I look at a lot of different samples. One of my favorites was a wastewater facility with all of its diversity! More recently I have been fascinated with insects – specifically those that consume wood. Termites have gorgeous flagellates living in their hindgut and so do some cockroaches. I have reels posted on Instagram of both. Ultimately, my favorite organisms are rotifers – their diversity is incredible and many can be absolutely stunning, especially the collothecids.
Your Instagram is filled with amazing images. Why did you decide to share your work on social media – and what kind of response have you received from your audience?
Joining Instagram started as an inexpensive solution to emptying my phone. I consistently filled up my storage and had to free up some space, so I uploaded videos on Instagram and then removed them from my phone. I didn’t think anyone would take my account seriously – probably because I didn’t take my account seriously. That’s pretty clear from some of my earlier stuff. However, I started to post more consistently and my Instagram shifted from something I used to “offload my phone” to something I now take more pride in.
Do you think your Instagram presence educates or simply stimulates a sense of wonder?
I definitely think that showing microscopic organisms makes people shift their awareness of the microscopic world from the back of their minds to the front. I am constantly looking for cool organisms to analyze! When I post something that looks bizarre, amazing, or magical, I think it catches people’s attention and encourages them to contemplate the vastness of life beyond ourselves. There is a huge beautiful world out there that we can’t see! The fact that I have the privilege to examine it? I would feel selfish not sharing.
Check out her Instagram page here: @desi_morrison
Associate Editor for the Pathologist