One of our favorite apps in the Life Science Lab at OMSI is AirMicro, which connects our iPads to a wireless proscope. Proscopes are hand held microscopes, made in the USA by Bodelin, where the focal length of the lens is exactly the distance from the lens guard to the lens. That means all you have to do is press something against the scope for it to be in focus. Because it’s mobile, we can take it around the lab and look at different animals up close. We can look at anything a visitor is interested in looking at. If one of our geckos is crawling on its glass cage, we can look at the bottom of its feet.
We’ve also started to incorporate it into our beginning microscope classes. With the help of a few modifications, we can even look at compound microscope slides with our proscope. We use a light board to illuminate the slide from the bottom. Then when we press the proscope to the slide, the image appears on the iPad. It’s similar to the lowest magnification on the compound microscopes we use later in the lab. This is a great way to take about all the different pieces of a microscope, because they are so obviously different when you look at them like this. The iPad is our eye piece, it’s where we view it from. The light box is what gives the slide light, and it lights it from the bottom. The slide is the “something interesting you want to look at.” The proscope, itself, is the objective. This activity really lends itself well to understanding focal length of the lens. If you don’t have the proscope pressed right up against what you want to look at, it’s not in focus.
Since the scope will let multiple (up to 253!) iDevices connect to it, large groups of people are able to simultaneously see what we are looking at with the microscope. This allows groups to discuss what they are seeing, point to interesting features on the screen, and ask questions of our facilitators or each other. This makes using a microscope much more a social learning experience than previously possible with compound microscopes because of the nature of the eye piece.
PS: We also like to take close up pictures of random house hold items and send out “What is this?” emails amongst the education staff.