NASA rolls out remote microscope

New NASA technology can help researchers study items that are located across the country.

NASA has successfully tested a so-called super magnifying glass, which allows scientists to assist astronauts during long-duration space flights. Using the Remote Scanning Electron Microscopy (RSEM) technology developed at Ames Research Center, researchers can study laboratory specimens thousands of miles away.

All that's needed to use the device is a suitable Web browser and network access to connect to the instrument. A remote-control system on the microscope gives researchers real-time control of the device, which uses electrons instead of light waves to magnify details of tissue from 10 to 100,000 times. It illuminates the sample with a great depth of field and produces 3-D, high-resolution images.

"By providing remote access to a unique tool like SEM that is too expensive for many settings, NASA is enabling medical researchers to work with a wide variety of specimens without unnecessary travel costs," said Doris Wu, a molecular biologist and researcher with the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Wu's first SEM project with NASA seeks to understand how the inner ear develops structurally in order to hear sounds. Understanding this could help address hearing loss in astronauts.

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