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May 13, 2021

New microscope tool delivers online alternative to in-person lab experience

Faculty and student duo develop rock-solid method to provide lab experiences virtually.

From the beginning, the bedrock of Earth sciences often relies upon the observation of in-hand specimens. In the field of petrology, for example, research involves making very, very thin slides of rock (~30 microns) and looking at specimen samples through a microscope.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring created a significant barrier to this long-standing practice when shared facilities, such as microscope labs, were off-limits to all but essential employees, and instructors had to quickly pivot to online courses with very little time to prepare.  

This online-only instruction prompted Michigan State University geologist Tyrone Rooney and doctoral student Alex Steiner, who is part of Rooney’s MSU Geochemistry and Petrology Group, to begin talking about how to provide an accessible solution for creating and delivering microscopic educational materials to students.

Their collective efforts resulted in the creation of an open‐source device known as the PiAutoStage system that combines a 3-D-printed mechanism and an integrated camera, both of which are controlled by a central computer. The low-cost device permits the conversion of laboratory courses to an online format, providing an equivalent in-lab experience to the student. A paper explaining the system and how to build and use it was recently published in the American Geophysical Union journal “Geochemistry, Geophysics Geosystems.”

Read the full story on the College of Natural Science website.

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