Web site offers a wealth of science information

Nov. 20, 2008
A cooperative project hosted by Florida State University, Molecular Expressions explores the world of optics and microscopy and is filled with photos.

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A cooperative project hosted by Florida State University, Molecular Expressions explores the world of optics and microscopy and is filled with photos.

There are many math and science Web sites that are superb resources for students and educators---I wish they had existed when I was a student! Molecular Expressions is an example of a "best in class" site that covers a wide range of science topics in an interesting and engaging manner.

Created and managed by the Optical Microscopy Division of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, a joint venture of Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, with additional funding from Olympus and Nikon, and led by research scientist Dr. Michael Davidson, the information Web site has been offered for well over a decade.

Visitors to the site are immediately introduced to the Galleries -- collections of color photomicrographs covering everything from beer and ice cream to integrated circuits and ceramic superconductors. Proclaiming that "We are going where no microscope has gone before," the site's amazing array of photographs introduces visitors to the complex, exotic beauty of items as viewed through the microscope.

So compelling are these images that Molecular Expressions has developed a successful business line licensing photo images to commercial, private, and nonprofit institutions.

But the display of amazing images is just the beginning. The site goes to great lengths to present the science behind the visuals. The Optical Microscopy Primer provides a wealth of information on the physics of light and color, the anatomy of the microscope, specialized microscopy techniques, and concepts, formulas and fundamentals of microscopy in its many applications, including photomicrography, stereomicroscopy, optical, virtual and confocal microscopy. Other topics covered in this section include refraction, reflection, diffraction, interference, birefringence, polarization, primary colors, human vision, mirrors, prisms, beamsplitters, laser systems, geometrical optics, filtration, color temperature, and the speed of light.

The site also contains more than 500 interactive Java and Flash tutorials designed to help students explore complex concepts in all phases of optical microscopy, the physics of light and color, photomicrography, and digital imaging technology. Many of the tutorials allow the visitor to adjust variables in a manner similar to operating an actual microscope.

Of special interest to students of optics is the section "Science, Optics and You," a science curriculum package developed for teachers, students, and parents. Activities are designed to generate curiosity and answer questions related to light, color, and optics. The program begins with basic information about lenses, shadows, prisms, and color, leading up to the use of sophisticated instruments scientists use to help them understand the world. The goal of "Science, Optics and You" is for students to acquire the skills with which they can do microscopic analysis of a variety of samples in multiple ways.

A highlight of the "Science, Optics and You" section is the "Timeline in Optics," which marks important events and developments in the science of optics. The Timeline moves from prehistory, when people in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia were becoming increasingly aware of optical phenomena and were using them for a variety of purposes, to the beginning of the 21st century and the development of lasers, fiber optics, computers and cyberspace communications.

Molecular Expressions continues to evolve as new materials are added, reflecting current developments in the field. Recently added content includes "Live Cell Digital Videos" and an "Introduction to Image Processing and Analysis," which includes descriptive reviews and interactive tutorials.

The Optical Society of America (OSA) partnered with Molecular Expressions on the redesign and consolidation of its "OPTICS for KIDS" and "OPTICS for Teens" Web sites. The result is an award-winning site that focuses on science basics, tutorials, interactive exercises, career profiles, and much more. "Molecular Expressions is a terrific resource, and we're so glad the team from Florida State University agreed to work with us on the OSA site. OPTICSforKIDS.org has received lots of positive feedback including two web education awards," said Allison Cargile, OSA Education Services.

Web sites like Molecular Expressions and OPTICS for KIDS are readily available and efficient to navigate. These sorts of resources have become a part of our everyday lives and are easily taken for granted; but it's worth taking a moment to appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to create and maintain quality online education sites. The FSU team is to be commended!

GRACE KLONOSKI is the senior director, Foundation and the Member & Education Services for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; e-mail: [email protected]; www.osa.org.

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