The Virtual Microscope
The Virtual Microscope is a NASA-funded project that provides simulated scientific instrumentation for students and researchers worldwide as part of NASA's Virtual Laboratory initiative. This site serves as home base for the Imaging Technology Group's contributions to that project—namely virtual microscopes and the multi-dimensional, high-resolution image datasets they view. Currently we provide 90 samples totaling over 62 gigapixels of image data. The Virtual Microscope, which is available for free download supports functionality from electron, light, and scanning probe microscopes, datasets for these instruments, training materials to learn more about microscopy, and other related tools. The project is open source and the code is available on Sourceforge.
Our Virtual Instruments
Our virtual instrument code currently supports data from three different instruments in our Microscopy Suite: a Philips Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM), a Fluorescence Light Microscope, and an Atomic Force Microscope. We have also adapted a high-resolution Digital SLR with a 5x magnifying macro lens to capture some specimens, as well as included some artistic renderings of microscopy data.
The virtual microscope aims to present the user with a method for exploring these pre-captured image data as if they were using the real instrument in real-time. To fulfill this goal, the virtual microscope provides the ability to load/unload specimens, to navigate to any point on that specimen, to change magnification, to adjust image parameters (contrast and brightness), to change focus, to analyze elemental composition, to measure features, and to render data in three dimensions. Additionally, the interface allows experts and laypeople alike to annotate specimens and/or load previously-created annotations.
Beyond the user interface, we have written a backend suite of custom software for the various tasks involved in collecting and processing the image data. This includes automated data collection of the thousands of images it takes to describe a single specimen, and routines for stitching and blending those tiled image datasets.
As part of our educational mission, we have produced animations that teach the basics of electron, light, and scanning probe microscopy, videos detailing sample preparation for those instruments, videos of interviews with graduate students about their career paths in the sciences, and help videos about how to use our application. These materials animations use a multitude of media to explore various topics relevant to the theory and craft behind the images.
About the Imaging Technology Group
The Imaging Technology Group (ITG) at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign provides state-of-the-art imaging facilities to the surrounding research community. We also develop advanced technology projects in the areas of remote (i.e. Bugscope!) and virtual instrument control, and scientific visualization.
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