WWL: Current Implementations for Service, Collaboration and Education

Instrumentation currently supported by the World Wide Laboratory includes a transmission electron microscope (Phillips CM200), nuclear magnetic resonance imaging spectrometers (Surrey Medical Imaging Systems, Varian, TechMag) and a video light microscope. All of these instruments are accessible through web browser based user interfaces.

Remote access to TEM

JavaScope is a web-based application designed to operate a Philips CM200 Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and to view digital images remotely. JavaScope has been written as a client/server application (see fig. 1). The JavaScope applet is the client and presents the application interface to the user. JavaScope responds to actions by the user by sending commands to a camera control server and microscope control server that run on a Unix workstation attached to the TEM and CCD Camera. These servers are responsible for controlling the TEM and digital camera using applications and libraries already developed as part of the emScope library [3]. The user interface is shown in fig. 2.

Figure 1: Architecture underlying the JavaScope user interface.
Figure 1


Figure 2: Java applets responsible for camera control (left) and microscope control (right).
Figure 2

The basic Javascope implementation, as a readily accessible tool for remote consultation and exploratory grid browsing, has been successful. JavaScope has been used by our collaborators in California (Research Institute at Scripps Clinic) to control the TEM in Illinois and provide advice as to the worth of acquiring data from a particular specimen. It has also had an additional benefit in providing students at the microscope with a means by which they can consult with an advisor who might be located at a remote location.

Remote access to MRI

The second example in the World Wide Laboratory is remote control of a NMR imaging spectrometer by means of web browser. This system evolved from our work in developing a distributed control, acquisition and processing interface for a NMR imaging spectrometer (4T, 31 cm bore) with a Surrey Medical Imaging System's acquisition console [4]. This system, called NSCOPE, has been interfaced to a UNIX workstation that provides a real-time processing and control capability. The significant features of this system are:

  1. real-time control of all acquisition and control aspects of the MRI system;
  2. real-time processing of dynamic MRI data;
  3. distributed processing modules for high performance computing systems.

The NSCOPE was initially developed to support functional magnetic resonance imaging and dynamic imaging applications. The modular software architecture of the system has allowed us to adapt the system to other user interfaces. For example, the Experimentalist's Virtual Acquisition Console (EVAC) used the NSCOPE system for real-time control and visualization of the MRI system from within an immersive visualization environment [5]. This system used voice commands to control the MRI system from within a room sized virtual environment called a CAVE. A real-time stereo capability was also developed for EVAC that used the flexible processing capabilities of the NSCOPE [6].

A Web based control interface was added to the NSCOPE in early 1996 (fig. 3). This allows the MRI system to be controlled from anywhere with Internet access using a standard Web browser. Significant features include:

  1. real-time acquisition and processing of images from the MRI system.
  2. password protected login system to limit access to authorized users.
  3. scheduling mechanism to limit permission for use of acquisition capabilities to specific users at selected times.
Figure 3: Web based control system provides interactive access to all imaging parameters on the MRI system.
Figure 3

The current system provides complete control of all instrument acquisition parameters from the web browser. The Web browser interface allows users from various domains and levels of expertise to run the MRI system without the need for extensive system specific training.

Chickscope: A K-12 education project using remote MRI

The remote MRI system was used in the spring of 1996 in a project called Chickscope [7,8], which demonstrated the feasibility of remotely controlling a magnetic resonance imaging device through the world wide web. The purpose of the project was to enable students and teachers, from ten classrooms ranging from kindergarten through high school, to control a MRI system in order to study the maturation of a chicken embryo during its 21 day cycle of development. From classroom computers with access to the Internet, students used web browsers to control the MRI system and manipulate experimental conditions through a simple on-line form. Students could generate their own data and then view the resulting images of the chick embryo in real time. The objectives of the Chickscope project were twofold. First, we sought to make extraordinary hardware, software and human resources available to the classrooms and study the impact of such a system on K-12 education. Secondly, we set out to "stress-test" interactive, remote control of the MRI system for further development by scientific researchers. Overall the Chickscope project was very successful in that it was well received by the teachers and students and there has been a great deal of interest and enthusiasm for repeating the project. In addition, it also allowed us to demonstrate that very complex technology could effectively be used by students at all grade levels.