Bugscope: Sustainable Internet Access to a ESEM for the K-12 Classroom

Bugscope is a new educational project in the World Wide Laboratory. The World Wide Laboratory provides Web browser based control of scientific imaging instrumentation using the Internet 1. Providing K-12 classrooms with web based remote access to sophisticated scientific imaging systems was initially demonstrated by us in 1996 in the Chickscope project 2,3. Chickscope allowed students to study chicken embryo development using a remotely controlled magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system from their classrooms. While the Chickscope project was highly successful, the resources required to provide operational support for the remote imaging aspects of the project for a small number of classrooms were enormous and the project was not sustainable. The Bugscope project builds on the methods developed and the lessons learned from the Chickscope project. The primary goal is to demonstrate that relatively low cost, sustainable access to an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) can be made available to K-12 classrooms to examine arthropods.

Methods

Classrooms use a standard web browser over the Internet to control and acquire images from a Philips XL-30FEG ESEM. The architecture to support remote acquisition is shown in fig. 1. The client/server control architecture for the ESEM remote control server is based on the emScope control library 4. A commercial database system (Informix Software, Inc.) is then used to schedule control requests to the ESEM and automatically store control information and images. This approach provides support for access and scheduling of multiple users to access the ESEM simultaneously in both cooperating and non-cooperating modes 1.

Figure 1.
Figure 1. Software Architecture for the Bugscope Project.

The Bugscope Project is designed to be a sustainable project rather than a one-time demonstration. Professional staff resources are minimized by training a small group of high school students to operate the ESEM to support the remote classroom projects. Additionally, the students maintain most of the operational aspects of the project including development of the web-based project handbook and interaction with the remote participating classrooms.

Results and Conclusions

By using the software architecture developed for the World Wide Laboratory, we have shown that we can rapidly provide web based access to a new instrument. The Bugscope project was operational within two months of the initial delivery and installation of the ESEM. Our goal is to support 100 classrooms over the next year using minimal staff resources and less than 3 hours of instrument time a week.

References

  1. B. Carragher and C.S. Potter, Workshop on the Impact of Advances in Computing and Communications in Chemical Sciences and Technology, November 1-2, 1998, National Academy Press.
  2. http://chickscope.beckman.uiuc.edu
  3. C. Bruce at al., Computers and Education, 29 (1997) 73-87.
  4. N. Kisseberth et al., J. Struct. Biology, 120 (1997) 309-319.
  5. http://bugscope.beckman.uiuc.edu
  6. Support provided by the NSF (9871103) and the Beckman Foundation for the purchase of the ESEM; the Lumpkin Foundation for support of the Bugscope project; the IBM Shared University Research Program; and the Informix Software Innovation Grant Program.

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