- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2000

Space may be the final frontier, but as man has explored the cosmos, he has equally and aggressively visited mysterious microcosms. With the development of high-powered microscopes over the past 400 years, scientists have delved into universes existing within a slide.
A 5-year-old Web site developed by a molecular biophysicist who has been doing research in optical microscopy for the past 15 years celebrates the worlds unseen by the naked eye and offers some of his collection of more than 100,000 photomicrographs photographs taken through a microscope.

Molecular Expressions


Site address: http://microscopy.fsu.edu

Creator:

The Molecular Expressions Web site was built and is maintained by Michael W. Davidson, a research scientist and molecular biophysicist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Creator quotable:

"We created this Web site to disseminate information about optical microscopy and to highlight the numerous photomicrographs in our collection. It is designed to be an educational resource for K-12 education as well as undergraduate university students and researchers," Mr. Davidson says.

Word from the Webwise:

Men have devoted their lives to shedding light on some of humanity's greatest microscopic enemies and saviors. Molecular Expressions opens an incredible array of colorful photographs created through photomicrographic technology. The site is loaded with educational information.
The site mixes encyclopedialike resources with interactive presentations and artistic images that may tax older computers but will thoroughly delight the junior microscopist in the family.
A front page quickly establishes Mr. Davidson's priorities. He wants visitors to learn of his craft before jumping into its curious beauty.
The top and left menu bars present primary sections, while images in the left-hand corner rotate as the page refreshes. Those images of devices and pioneers in the field tempt visitors. With a click, for example, users can learn about Vincent Chevalier's achromatic microscope. This handy item, designed during the mid 19th century, was the first to use a system of chromatically corrected lenses.
I started my research within the "Microscopy Primer," which explains everything that has to do with a microscope. "Light and Color" explores refraction, reflection, diffraction, interference and polarization; "Anatomy of the Microscope" focuses on theories behind magnification, image formation and optical aberrations; and "Frequently Asked Questions" are answered by Mortimer Abramowitz, senior microscopist at Olympus America.
Other cool stops include "Virtual Microscopy," which provides interactive elements to allow visitors to view and manipulate selected samples with their Web browser.
"Science, Optics and You" not only features interactive activities designed to promote understanding of light, color, optics and microscopic analysis, but also highlights the men and history of microscopy. There, full biographies of folks such as Anton van Leeuwenhoek (the Dutch scientist whose microscopes were able to magnify objects more than 275 times) and Max Planck (a German physicist who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1918 for his development of the quantum theory of energy) can be found.
Now for the fun stuff: Galleries of photos in nearly 60 categories ranging from amino acids to dinosaur bones to liquid crystals are listed on every page of the site. I chose the "Silicon Zoo" gallery and was not disappointed. Believe it or not, engineers who build and design computer chips have a sense of humor and are incredibly creative.

Ease of use:

Microscopic Expressions needs a speedy Internet connection combined with a browser able to understand Java and the Quicktime plug-in. Every demonstration was a fantastic experience, and I recommend spending a generous amount of time roaming this site.
I would suggest that Mr. Davidson include some type of virtual glossary of terms to help explain some of the more difficult concepts. I would like to think I am knowledgeable when it comes to science, but once he started explaining differential interference contrast using terms such as "Nomarski modified Wollaston prisms," I found I was in a bit over my head.

Family activity:

This idea costs some money, but it offers a neat educational experience. Mattel and Intel combined forces to develop the QX3 microscope last holiday season. It costs less than $100 and hooks into a computer with Windows 95.
The site offers a complete analysis of the product, its software and its capabilities. Mr. Davidson also recommends equipment that can be found at home or purchased to further enhance the QX3. Using the QX3 is a well-rounded activity from collecting specimens at a local pond to enhancing enlarged images for the entire clan.

Don't miss:

Viewers can get a unique perspective on just how large and small the universe has become through a wonderful Java-enabled slide show found under the "Science, Optics and You" section.
"Powers of 10" begins with a view 10 million light-years from the Milky Way galaxy and rapidly moves toward Earth until one comes face to face with a carbon atom culled from an oak tree just outside the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Along the journey, expect to see galaxies, stars, continents, leaf cell walls,a cell nucleus, DNA and a vib-rant subatomic environment of electrons and protons.

Cyber-sitter synopsis:

Younger children may findthe images entertaining,but they will want to fire up their Gameboys after about 30 minutes. High school students considering a career in the chemical or biological sciences, however, will find a gold mine with the depth and variety of the information presented on the site.
Family fun factor: 100 percent

Information grade: A++


Have a cool site about science or health for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016;or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).

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