Two new virtual microscopes are giving undergraduates and anyone interested in earth or life sciences the opportunity to learn microscope skills just as they would in a laboratory, thanks to Jisc-funded resources launching within The Open University’s new science portal.
Students will now have the same opportunities whether they are learning remotely, quickly or slowly, without access to expensive laboratory equipment or simply looking to expand their knowledge. It will also allow them to develop important research skills needed for microscope work in the lab.
Paola Marchionni, Jisc programme manager, says:
“Our resources such as the virtual microscopes will help breed a new generation of scientists confident in using digital technology. These resources are example of where digitisation of important collections is not just an end in itself but can make a real impact on the quality of teaching and learning opportunities for students - and of course with all the images licensed under Creative Commons everybody will be able to access and enjoy them."
People working in the life sciences can now view more than 300 digitised microscope slides to better understand the make-up of the body from blood vessels to nerves - and what happens when diseases attack.
The slides have come from seven different UK medical schools, hospitals and universities - so users know they are looking at quality-assured material.
David Male, from The Open University, led the team who assembled and developed the life sciences resource, says:
“Students would normally only be able to access a limited range of slides depending on where they work. The virtual microscope lets them study a much greater range of normal and diseased tissues, including hospital biopsies and University collections. However the main value of the microscope is in the active legends which take users directly to the features described on the slide, just as an instructor would do.”
For geologists, those working to identify, classify and understand rocks and minerals have their own specialist microscope slides, which the developers hope will save time and resource in the lab.
Such detailed study is critical for an understanding the processes going on deep beneath the Earth’s surface, how mountains and volcanoes formed, and to understand how our planet’s surface has evolved.
Simon Kelley, also from The Open University, heads the team for the Earth Science microscope. He explains:
“There is an old saying that the best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks and there is some truth in that. The virtual microscope for Earth science is a great resource because it allows users to study over 150 rocks from Earth, the moon, and outer space on their computer, tablet or even smart phone without the need for an expensive laboratory.”
Instead of looking like a standard web page of images, the online microscopes emulate all the functions of a light microscope, so that the user can scan across the image, change magnification, adjust the lighting, and in some cases rotate images or photograph areas of interest.
What’s more, the resources are backed up by quality information and teaching resources to help lecturers and teachers make the most of the slides.
The more basic material is suitable for teaching in schools, while the more specialised information supports undergraduates or even postgraduate researchers.
The resources now form part of The Open University’s online scientific portal OpenScience Laboratory, which includes remote access to virtual instruments like these ones, online science labs, online field investigations and opportunities for the general public to contribute to science.
The microscopes are accessible from the OpenScience lab - you'll need to sign in or register to access them.