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Students focus on the small things in life

27 April 2016

The Biosciences team in the School of Science and Technology have purchased one Stemi 305 stereo zoom microscope with Alumni Fund money, for the observation of terrestrial and aquatic invertebrate specimens. They also purchased a camera and adapter that will allow magnified invertebrates to be viewed on screen and photographed.

The new equipment will enhance the learning experience of whole cohorts by allowing simultaneous observation of microscopic structures by staff and students. The microscope also enhances the quality of research conducted by BSc and MSc research project students, by allowing identification of observed organisms to a higher taxonomic level. The equipment will also enable the Biosciences team to produce new, bespoke high-quality learning resources for use outside the laboratory.

This capacity to share images on screen will allow staff to point out key identification features to an entire class, rather than visiting students individually to provide the same information. The clarity of this shared observation will increase student confidence in their own identification skills, improve the capacity of students to work independently, and will increase productivity of each student, as they will spend less time waiting for individual help. In addition, staff who are able to point out key identification features on screen ensure that learners are observing precisely the right thing.

As well as the ability to observe specimens as a group, the higher taxonomic resolution achieved will increase the scientific quality of analyses and written work. This will produce higher quality, more professional research papers and theses. The greater accuracy and resolution of identification will also increase project scope, publication success and student satisfaction with the quality of work conducted. In taught undergraduate laboratories, the microscope will improve the accuracy with which organisms are identified by whole classes. The development of a more advanced technical, vocationally relevant skill set will be promoted in all users.

Senior Lecturer Rachel Stubbington said: “The microscope is an excellent addition to equipment used by ecology staff and students and allows us to identify organisms far more efficiently than previously. In particular, the microscope was used extensively by undergraduate research student Chris Howell on a project examining the impacts of water-level fluctuations in reservoir ecosystems on freshwater invertebrate communities. It allowed him to work more independently and with greater confidence to identify organisms to a higher level than would otherwise have been possible. In addition, being emailed photographs of observed specimens from the lab has allowed me to help Chris and other students to identify organisms remotely, which in turn means that the students can make more rapid progress with their work than previously possible.”

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