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What Makes a Microscope a Good Educational Microscope?

Interview with Leica Microsystems’ Product Manager Vince Vaccarelli

Vince Vaccarelli

Vince Vaccarelli is Product Manager for Leica Microsystems’ range of educational microscopes. He has been with the company for 30 years and is based in the United States. In our interview he talks about the secrets of a successful educational microscope, explains the benefits of the latest asset to the educational product range and reveals his favorite Leica product.

In which environment are Leica Microsystems’ educational microscopes generally used?

Although we have some business in Secondary schools in several countries, our educational products are mostly used in the Higher Education Microscopy Classrooms. This means our main users are students over 18 years. The microscopes are applied in Life Science, Earth Science, Materials Science and Forensic Science courses for both basic and advanced topics. The students taking these courses have aspirations to belong to the next generation of scientists. We know for example that our Leica DM500 microscope for prepared slides and the Leica EZ4 microscope for dissection has been used in the introduction courses at the State University of New York at Buffalo, which has inspired students to go on to more advanced courses.

What do teachers in university and high-school expect from a microscope?

Our observations of classrooms in action and input from our user groups indicate there are 5 key points which make the teacher’s job easier.

  1. Teachers need to be able to store the microscopes easily. That’ why educational microscopes should be small, easy to carry, and have only few cables that could tangle.
  2. They have to stand up to rough handling and different environmental conditions, so a durable construction is a must in universities and schools.
  3. They need to enable students to easily work with them. In practice that means, they should not have removable components, so that nothing is lost; parts need to be well-labeled to enable students to easily find the parts, and it must be possible to see something with only few adjustments.
  4. Of utmost importance is the optical performance, including the camera. If the optical performance is good, images will have good contrast, color, and a resolution that reproduces images accurately. The optical performance enables students to see into a different world - and that is only interesting if what they see is clear and crisp.
  5. Last, but not least, servicing the microscopes must be easy. The system must be easy to clean and maintain, and an on-site service should be available when needed.

How does Leica Microsystems make microscopes suitable for the classroom?

The educational product line of Leica Microsystems is specifically designed for classroom use. We have studied classroom storage spaces and stay within that dimension. We also build handles and cord wraps into our products for easy carrying. Our construction has been tested by outside labs and meets all international safety standards – including the ISO standard for mold growth resistance which is helpful in regions of high temperature and humidity. We also have integrated an anti-bacterial additive into our paints and plastics to help prevent the spread of disease from the microscope surfaces.

Your most recent addition to the educational range is a wireless camera that can be added to a microscope and a microscope with an in-built wireless camera. How do teachers and students benefit from that?

Our new Wi-Fi cameras for education make it easy to get the image out of the microscope and into the hands of the students by eliminating power supplies and cables previously needed to capture an image. This allows the teacher to build lessons and experiments around the image and enables the students to gain experience in creating and electronically sharing professional reports. This is definitely what they will do if they pursue a career in sciences.

How does this exactly work?

The Wi-Fi cameras have their own internal Wi-Fi network. This means any mobile device such as a tablet, phone, or Wi-Fi-enabled PC can connect to the camera using our app or software. The teacher and student can then view, capture, and archive the image. Once the image is on the device, it can then be shared as you would share your private images.

Which experiences have teachers made with this option so far?

Feedback so far has been very positive. We have some customers using one camera for the teacher and allowing their students to connect. We have other customers which have several cameras whereby students work in small groups. They all see this technology as a way to catch and hold the student attention.

Final question: What is your favorite instrument in the range and why?

This is a tough question! It is like asking a parent which is their favorite child. Maybe it is dodging the question, but as I see it, over the years I had the pleasure to work with a great team and we have expanded the educational product line and continued to bring new technology into the Higher Education Classroom. Innovations such as LED illumination, HD and Wi-Fi image sharing, or something as simple as an integrated handle and cord wrap all made the teacher’s job and the student’s work easier. I don’t look at our work as just selling microscopes….we are really providing a service to improve education by offering products which help educate the next generation of scientists which ultimately improves the life of everybody.