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"Look ma, no eyepieces" or Why go digital?

“Old fashioned” binocular microscopes can be difficult for kids to use. Often the oculars are not adjusted to the correct width and focus, and kids may be examining the reflections from their eyelash rather than the specimen itself. Moreover, since only one person at a time can use a binocular microscope, it is hard to know if the student is looking at the right specimen or if it is properly focused. Frustration ensues. Digital microscopy uses a ccd camera rather than the human eye as a detector, and the image is displayed on a computer screen (or can be projected onto a TV monitor so that the whole class can see). Thus, it is possible for several people to examine the image at the same time, thereby making it a much more interactive learning experience. Students can discuss what they are seeing among themselves. Microscopy becomes interactive!

In addition, our kids live in the digital age. They spend a lot of their time on computers, and it is relatively easy for them to use software that controls image acquisition from a microscope. In addition, images or movies can be stored on the computer and therefore can be used in a school report or placed on a class web site, etc. Digital microscopy, therefore, serves as an effective teaching platform for computer technology (ie. Power point or iMovie). Since many kids (or their parents) have digital cameras, you can explain that this is similar to taking pictures or making movies with these cameras.

Finally, digital microscopy represents the state-of-the-art of modern microscope (similar to what we do with $100,000 microscopes in our lab at UCSF!). The software used with Digital Blue and other “children’s microscopes” also has many of the features used by biologists in their research (ie time lapse movies, frame averaging). Thus, in addition to being fun, digital microscopy for children represents “cutting edge” technology in modern microscopy research.


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