Microscopy for Children

Edit: The following was a project idea developed between Osamu and Sam Stevens in November 2006. The idea was originally for Swedish School Children and then Jordanian children as part of the Mobile Labs Outreach project. Osamu and Sam still wish to see this project happen in this or another form. If you are interested, please do get it contact.

Project Introduction

Out of gratitude to Swedish society for its support during his tenure at Stockholm University, Prof. Terasaki (“Osamu”) wanted to give something back by taking a “tabletop SEM” with an optical microscope around schools in Sweden to instill a sense of wonder and curiosity in schoolchildren (“children”) about the natural world through scientific methods. (The first target: ~ 5 schools)

An SEM is a type of powerful microscope that uses electrons, rather than light rays, to allow observation of features much smaller than optical microscope. Examples of the types of images possible using an SEM are given below:

An example of the types of images possible are shown in BBC Bristol’s “Grime Scene Investigations” where a JEOL JCM 5700 is used to image bed bugs and other parasites to chilling detail.

Such microscopes are very expensive and beyond the budget of classrooms. Some microscopes have already been used for primary school education, for example, the Mary Rose or Oxford University materials department but these having been performed remotely over the internet, as it was considered inappropriate for a classroom to visit the laboratories in question.

A tabletop SEM is extremely mobile consisting of only the microscope unit, a computer to control/visualise the SEM image and a small metal-sputtering instrument. It is therefore a suitable machine to take around schools in Sweden and perform observations within the classroom. Whilst not possessing the resolving power of more immobile SEMs, they are sufficiently powerful to observe features such as the hair on a flea’s back or the segments of the compound eye of a house fly or pollen of natural flowers and are much cheaper and easier to operate. An optical microscope will be brought together.

This document outlines possible costs/expenses associated with the project and more detail about ways to maximise the benefit to the children.

Proposed Task For The Children

It is very important that all children in the lesson should:

    • feel incorporated
    • see the relationship between the sample at normal magnification and magnified
    • get the chance to see the microscope work, in real-time
    • understand the relationship in size between different samples
    • be enthused about science

Therefore, a task I thought suitable would be an experiment called, “which is bigger?” - students are encouraged to find their own samples, such as insects, think about they may look like, image the sample, compare the size of features with other students and compare their expectations of what they would see with what they actually saw.

A description of the processes involved is given in the next section.

Proposed Lesson Plan

The microscope is set up by students (Swedish speaking) employed by Osamu to carry out the project (“students”). Break time is best so as not to distract the children during the lesson.

The teacher introduces the students to the children.

Using powerpoint slides, the students explain what a microscope is and the types of things one can see. Not too much is discussed in order not to ruin the surprise when they themselves start using it!

The children are told that they will be taking part in an experiment but before they can do that, they must make their own lab books following the students’ instruction.

Details on how to make the lab book is given in appendix 1.

Title pages for the lab books are filled in.

Children are then encouraged to search for their own samples to put in the microscopes in schools where this is not possible, samples can be provided. Details about the samples and what the child expects to see in the microscope are written into the lab book. Splitting children into different groups may aid the ability for children to compare samples both now and at the following stages.

In turn, samples are inserted into the microscope and then the microscope is operated. In real-time, the child gets to see the effect of magnification upon their sample. If the child wishes to take photos of the sample, different to what they originally wanted to look at that, then that should be encouraged!

Examples of features children could then focus on could include:

  • A part of various insects (such as fly’s eye, fly’s leg, butterfly’s tongue,....)
  • A part of plants or flowers (such as pollen,....
  • A grain of sand, minerals, salt,..
  • A cleavage of some electronics
  • others

For the sake of logistics, samples can be shared between children due to the long time required to insert and remove samples from the microscope. However, each child should have three photos each saved and then printed out.

The first picture is of low magnification, giving an overall image of the sample. The second two are of higher magnification. The magnification should be chosen so that the image that is printed (approximately 5 cm wide, in order to stick into the lab book), there is some common relationship between their classroom rulers and the images. For example, 1cm on their ruler could equate to 1µm on the image.

Once all images are taken and all affixed into lab books. The children are then encouraged to measure various properties of their images, make an average value between images and then compare with other children.

Job Of The Student

It is very important that the students prepare a powerpoint presentation detailing both what a microscope is and giving clear instructions of the classroom project which must include as many diagrams and illustrations as possible. No child must be left behind.

The children can perform most tasks in parallel, however the stage where the microscope is used the children will need to be occupied whilst other children are on the microscope. A list of possible other activities is included below.

During microscope observation, whilst images are being generated, a list of the students can be taken, with three numbers next to them corresponding to the images they took. This will make entry into the website (see appendix 2) and printing of the pictures, in some sort of matrix format, much simpler.

Other Possible Activities

Other activities could include making models of the things that the children see. A quiz on guessing what they are looking at from prearranged pictures. Or ranking various models/images by their real-life size.

Proposed Costs / Resources

Employment of two persons to take the microscope on tour is suitable. One would be too few as the students will require supervision whilst other activities, such as printing and microscope maintenance, assembly etc are performed.

Hiring of the microscopes (mobile SEM + optical microscope) + metal coater, computer, printer etc. Also a car suitable for microscope transportation must be borrowed and suitably padded. Petrol.

Pre-lesson, a student will need to take time to arrange visits and schedule meetings at various schools.

Post-lesson, a student will need to upload data to the website (ca. 1 hour per class visit). Website construction itself is extremely basic and should not take a capable designer more than one day’s work.

An iPad and a simple projector

Appendix 1: The Lab-Book

A piece of paper can be made into an 8-page book one simple cut and folding. The piece of paper: (i) is folded into 8 parts; (ii) cut along a line; (iii) folded over; & (iv) folded around.

The lab-book can then be printed on a single side of an A3 and folded into an A6 book which is the perfect size for carrying around in little hands.

Page 1 - The students fill in their name and class so as not to loose. The lab book is then their’s and they can keep forever - it also something to show parents/guardians.

Page 2 - Project brief, text about the experiment they have performed.

Page 3 - Students are encouraged to write in the lab book details about the sample they have found and predictions about what they may see.

Page 4, 5 & 6 - Space to affix SEM images they have taken of their samples. The first is of lower magnification than the second two to provide perspective.

Page 7 - Simple calculations of average sizes taken from the second and third images and possible further calculations from their friend’s work, depending upon ability / resources.

Page 8 - Back page is free for notes, conclusions and also links to relevant websites.

Appendix 2: The Website

The design of the website is relatively simple. The menu at the top of the page allows access to information such as contacting the initiative. Also, it provides a place for children/parents and other members of the public to look at the photos taken.

Clicking on Pictures (highlighted by the red arrow) should take you to a list of the schools that the initiative has visited.

Clicking on the school takes one to a list of the pictures taken. They are all put online in the order they were taken during the lesson and ascribed to each child. Once the form is made to allow uploading of files, the uploading process will not be labour intensive.