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virtual microscopy

Virtual microscopy is a method of posting microscope images on, and transmitting them over, computer networks. This allows independent viewing of images by large numbers of people in diverse locations.

Classroom viewing of microscope slides has traditionally been a cumbersome business. It is possible to set up an optical microscope with projection apparatus, but this is an inflexible scheme at best. It requires operation by a professor or instructor, and students do not have individual control over what they see. It also requires that all the students be physically present in the same classroom at the same time. These limitations also apply to the sharing of images among teams of doctors. Although closed-circuit television networks have been used for this purpose, image resolution in these systems is notoriously poor.

With the advent of computers and broadband Internet connections, microscope slide images can be digitized and posted online. Each student can use a computer to independently look at any image in a database that can contain thousands of slides. Zooming provides the equivalent of variable magnification. Using UP/DOWN/RIGHT/LEFT arrow buttons, the viewer can move the center of the field of view at will. Students can view images when and where they choose. For example, if there are 50 students in a virtual class all looking at the same image at the same time, the students can independently choose 50 different placements and magnifications of the image. Reports by users indicate that this can actually be easier than using an optical microscope in a laboratory setting.

One program used for virtual microscopy is "Virtual Slice" developed by MicroBrightField, Inc. of Colchester, Vermont. If recent tests are any indication, virtual microscopy will largely replace older instructional methods. In addition, the technology has applications in videoconferencing, and in the exchange of medical information among doctors and hospitals worldwide. This will improve the quality of patient care by increasing the quality and quantity of medical information that can be shared.

This was last updated in March 2008

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