The Microscope

The FEI XL-30 ESEM FEG (right) and computer controls

The Bugscope Project lets students control an FEI FEG 450 ESEM microscope through a web browser. An ESEM is an Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope that is similar to, and often operates as, a traditional scanning electron microscope (SEM).

An SEM can magnify over 100 times more than the well-known light microscope. Because it uses electrons instead of light, there is no color, and normally transparent material becomes opaque. But it renders features in incredible detail.

Compared to light microscopes, electron microscopes are larger, more complicated, harder to maintain, and far more expensive. They are rare even on secondary-education campuses. Most classrooms still have no way to experience electron microscopy first hand.

Pollen grain viewed with the scanning electron microscope

The Project

Bugscope is an educational outreach project. It began in 1999, and continues with support from the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Staff members in the Beckman Institute's microscopy suite donate their time to run up to three live Bugscope sessions a week. Schools apply online and pay nothing to participate. Once an application is accepted, we schedule the date and time of the live interactive session.

Live Session Experience

A session lasts about an hour, during the teacher's regular class period. The teacher can login from a single computer connected to a projector, or let students login individually or in groups from their own computers. The live interface lets everyone see the microscope's images, ask questions via online chat, and of course control the microscope.

Insects mounted on the 1.5 inch sample stage

Teachers can either send in insect specimens collected by their students, or use samples from Bugscope's own collection. Teachers should use their live session time to explore the samples and ask questions. Only afterwards should they review and discuss the images, from the complete chat transcript and images on the Bugscope website's archive.

The live session experience is flexible and exciting. Parents can join their student's session, co-ops of homeschoolers can connect from individual homes, and even kids home sick can join their classmates.

Archived Sessions

Every session's chat lines and images is archived as a web page. This lets a class reflect on its session, and can be shared with parents and other classes.

Continue the tour: Learn About SEM