Online Virtual Microscopes

Online Digital Microscope
This virtual microscope allows the user to choose from a variety of plant, animal and microbe specimens. It is not a comprehensive simulation of a microscope, but still useful for educational purposes because of the description of the different specimens.
I liked: The descriptions of the specimens were very complete (including staining information etc.). There are numerous specimens to look at and to explore.
I did not like: In order to switch to a higher magnification, it is necessary to click into a small rectangle. It is therefore possible to only magnify pre-selected areas.
Use it for: giving an overview of different staining techniques and for showing the differences in cell shapes.

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Bob Ketcham’s Virtual Microscope
This interactive site is a true simulation of a microscope. The users even have to switch the micoscope “on” in order to see something. An instruction (with audio!) is included as well. This is a true instructional interactive site which allows students to experiment with the microscope. Here is the project homepage.
I liked: The instructional audio is great. It is a full simulation of the microscope. If the slide is not centered, you won’t be able to see anything. There is much attention to detail.
I did not like: There are only 4 specimens to choose from. For this reason there is not much for students to explore (the focus of the site is more on operation of the microscope).
Use it for: instructing students on how to use a compound microscope.

Kbears Virtual Microscope
The Kbears Virtual Microscope is a site for younger students (elementary school). It’s not a true microscope simulation, but rather a collection of 11 microscopic images.
I liked: Children-friendly design, short explanations of the specimens.
I did not like: low resolution of some images, no possibility to zoom in and to magnify.
Use it for: showing students different pictures of specimens (“What is this?” type of activity).

Virtual Petrological Microscope
This software simulates a petrological microscope. There are 7 rock samples to choose from. It is suitable for teaching students how to make measurements under the microscope.
I liked: It also allows users to switch to polarized light. It’s one of the rare non-biological “microscopes”.
I did not like: I could not figure out the function of the two circles at the bottom of the site. The documentation could be better.
Use it for: Showing students how to make measurements and magnification calculations.

Virtual Cell Staining Tool
Here the users can see the effect of different antibody-based (immunological) stains. Users can choose the different stain types and colors.
I liked: The different parts of a cell can be visualized very well.
I did not like: It does not say which cell it is. There are many different stains to choose from, but there is no visual difference for some of these stains.
Use it for: showing students how different cell organelles and structures look using fluorescent stains.

MicrobeHunter Virtual Microscope
Ha! And you thought I’ve forgotten! And because I’m fair, I’ll also critically evaluate my own virtual microscopy project.
I liked: The large images. There is plenty to explore. It’s also possible to seamlessly zoom into the specimens.
I did not like: No information concerning magnification is given. There is no reference point concerning magnification.
Use it for: Enjoyment and entertainment and to marvel about the beauty of nature! Why does science always have to be educational and “serious”?

One thought on “Online Virtual Microscopes”

  1. The two circles at the bottom of the site of the Virtual Petrological Microscope are meant to show how the appearance of the sample changes upon rotation when using polarized light. You have to click on one of the red circle arrows in the top image first. Then an image of that location loads in the two circles below (one with and one without polarized light). Now you can rotate the sample/image by dragging with the mouse.

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