The Remote Microscopy project provides web based remote control of microscopes in the ITG as part of the World Wide Laboratory. There are a number of advantages to providing remote access to imaging instrumentation. First, it provides access to unique and/or expensive instruments without requiring the user to be physically present at the site of the instrument. In addition, it provides the opportunity for collaboration and/or consultation with researchers anywhere in the world, thus providing for a network of distributed expertise. Finally, this technology presents unprecedented opportunities for education and training.
In addition to ITG's remote microscopy initiative, a related endeavour is their work in virtual microscopy. ITG is currently involved in a project to develop a full-fledged Virtual SEM (VSEM) for the purposes of teaching, training, education and research. This project, called the VSEM Project, is funded by the Kennedy Space Center at NASA as the first installed instrument in their Virtual Laboratory project.
Research-Grade Remote Microscopy with the NASA HLN Project
The Hierarchical Learning Network at NASA is working with the Imaging Technology Group to create a fully functional remote microscopy suite that provides engineers and researchers the opportunity to completely control microscopy instrumentation remotely. The first instrument to be included in the remote microscopy suite is a Philips XL 30 ESEM-FEG. This scanning electron microscope is capable of imaging with 2nm resolution in high vacuum mode and has the ability to operate with up to 10 torr of water vapor in the sample chamber in wet mode.
The integrated user interface for research-grade remote ESEM (click for full view)
While previous incarnations of ITG's remote microscopy have provided remote ESEM functionality, they have been aimed at a different audience. That audience is education, both for educational outreach and teacher training. As a first pass at remote ESEM, we developed the first version of irma, or interactive remote microscopy application. This application has been in use since 1999, and is still used weekly as the main application in the Bugscope project.
Several functions necessary for full-fledged research with the ESEM are not possible with that previous incarnation, however. One of the primary functions needed is full-time streaming video. Streaming video allows for interactive focus and navigation that are necessary for real research use. In addition to these fundamental needs, other options include multiple detectors, spot size, kV, high-quality image acquisition, and others as required.
The new irma provides these functions integrated into a single application, with streaming video, still images, extended control, integrated chat, and other various tools that increase the usability to the scientific researcher.