FRIED, Glenn *; GROSSER, Benjamin; MAU, Christopher; BLASI, Laura; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; The University of Central Florida: Documenting Xyloplax Using a Virtual Scanning Electron Microscope
Rare samples, such as the Xyloplax specimens collected by the Field Museum in Chicago, have a limited exposure due to their fragility. One solution to widen their exposure is to collect high-resolution, multi-dimensional image data from a single specimen for wide dissemination digitally. A 5 mm by 5 mm Xyloplax specimen has been used to demonstrate this technique. The image dataset was collected in 17 rows and 26 columns with 5 focal point layers for a total of 2,210 images using an automated Philips XL30 ESEM. This data is then tiled and formatted for viewing. Tiled image dataset file sizes commonly reach into the gigapixels (Xyloplax is .68 gigapixels, or 678 megapixels). This size, plus their multi-dimensionality mandate a customized data viewer. We have designed and built a Virtual Scanning Electron Microscope (VSEM) to view these datasets, providing a familiar and intuitive interface based on common scientific instrumentation. The VSEM supports magnification, navigation, and focus adjustment of these large datasets. Just like a scientist using a real SEM, the VSEM gives the investigator freedom to explore any point in the Xyloplax dataset at multiple zoom levels and focal planes. The VSEM has both educational and teaching applications ranging from grade school to the graduate level. Evaluations of students at the high school level have shown that students gain a heightened understanding of scientific instrumentation and data when using the VSEM. After using Virtual Lab students shifted from emotional language and responded to questions using more scientific language. The VSEM can be downloaded for free from http://virtual.itg.uiuc.edu. Teaching tools and assessments can be downloaded from http://edcollege.ucf.edu/nasa/.