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Zeit bites: Random facts about counting pollen

Pollen
Photo Illustration by Brent Holmes
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From Tanvi Patel, Director of UNLV's Pollen Monitoring Program

We collect samples daily at UNLV. At the rest of the sites (5), we collect them once a week, but they’re still a seven-day sampler. So we have data 365 days a year. // In spring and fall we do see high numbers. The highest I’ve ever seen it is from 10,000 to 12,000 (grains of pollen). Today I counted about 3,500, from tree pollen alone. Anything over 1,500 grains per cubic meter is a bad allergy day. // In the laboratory, they’re put on a microscope slide. Ordinarily, pollen is clear; you wouldn’t be able to see it. So we have to put pink dye in there so we’re able to identify the types. // We put it under a microscope, and we just go from left to right and count every single grain of pollen we see. If there’s not a lot, it can be done within 15 or 20 minutes. But right now, because we’re counting thousands, it can take about an hour — for one slide. // In a typical week, you’re going to be counting about 42 slides. // We (enter the count manually) on a tally counter. (Computer scanning can’t tell the difference between types of pollen.) // In the beginning, I did lose count if I got distracted or there were so many to count. (Now I) rarely lose count. ///In the laboratory, we really don’t get exposed to the pollen. But in the fields, yeah, we do.

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(Editor's note: Scott Dickensheets no longer works for Nevada Public Radio)