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Virtual research

Scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) were first developed in the Department of Engineering in the late fifties and early sixties. They are now routinely used in laboratories the world over, as a means of looking at materials at very high magnifications. However the cost of these instruments is still relatively high. With this in mind, a research team led by Bernie Breton is devising a virtual scanning electron microscope, capable of all the functions of a real one, which can be accessed by anyone with a computer.

sem image of pollen

Scanning electron microscope image of pollen

"This will have tremendous value in terms of teaching. Not only will it allow schools the facility to 'use' a scanning electron microscope, but it also has great potential for the training of existing users to an advanced level. Pilots today are trained on simulators, and the same idea can be used to train people to use these complex and expensive microscopes."

The aim is to produce commercial software which will be accessible through the web, making it available the world over. This software will also allow an SEM to be run remotely. Thus users could send their samples in to a central base, and operate the instrument from a remote location. Bernie himself has logged in to his sem and downloaded the images whilst flying at 39000ft in a jet plane crossing the United States. Thatís a whole new way of 'working from home'.

Try the virtual SEM yourselves from our celebratory web site.
For further information e-mail Bernie Breton: bcb@eng.cam.ac.uk

number 9, July 2000 home | contents | previous | next