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  • Simulator Team Zooms in on Education
May 2005
ARLINGTON, Va., May 13 -- Ants sitting on microchip "picnic tables," salt crystals in gritty detail and the scales of a butterfly wing are among the other-worldly subjects of images that can be produced by a scanning electron microscope (SEM). A team of researchers and educators are creating a CD-ROM and Web-based software that can simulate an SEM via personal computers for use in the classroom.

Up Close and Personal: Click here to operate a demonstration version of the iSEM and examine specimens in sharp detail. Credit: RJ Lee Group

iSEM, for Interactive Scanning Electron Microscope, displays pre-installed, high-resolution images that students can observe and precisely measure as if they were operating their own $200,000 analytical instrument.

From zooming in and measuring the fangs of a spider to analyzing the chemistry of minerals in a meteorite, elementary school-aged children can run experiments they might not otherwise see, outside of a graduate school education.

"Our goal is to develop next-generation virtual laboratory technology to provide educators access to advanced analytical instruments rarely found in a high school, or even a college," said Gary Casuccio of the RJ Lee Group, principal investigator on the iSEM Project, which is partly funded by the National Science Foundation. "The iSEM represents our first step in this direction."

Lynn Landis, an eighth-grade science teacher from South Fayette Middle School in Pittsburgh and a consultant for the iSEM Project, said, "Today's students use technology like their parent's generation used books. It is an integral part of their lives. By bringing this technology to my classroom, I feel that I will be 'updating' school and tying it to real-life activities."

"iSEM is a version of the SEM tool that is affordable even to schools with relatively meager resources," said Sally Nerlove, the NSF officer who oversaw the iSEM award. "This has the potential to motivate and prepare students for professions that benefit from advanced microscopy, such as electronics, medicine, forensics and the emerging area of nanotechnology."

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