Press Release

NASA Enables Scientists to Work Together While Miles Apart

By SpaceRef Editor
April 12, 2004
Filed under ,

For the first time, researchers thousands of miles away
can study laboratory specimens by remotely operating NASA’s
new “super magnifying glass.”

The Remote Scanning Electron Microscopy (RSEM) technology was
developed at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), Moffet Field,
Calif. It has been successfully tested to allow scientist to
help NASA solve problems encountered by astronauts during
long-duration space flights.

“The technology will enable multiple researchers at locations
across the country to observe and control the scanning
electron microscope (SEM), thus allowing for remote, real-
time simultaneous analysis of tissue by several
investigators, “said Dr. Richard Boyle, director of BioVIS
Technology Center.

In contrast to conventional microscopes that use light waves,
the SEM uses electrons to magnify details of tissue from 10
to 100,000 times. This super-dissecting microscope
illuminates the sample with a great depth of field and
produces three-dimensional, high-resolution images. All
scientists need to use the SEM is a suitable Web browser and
network access to connect to the instrument. A remote-control
system on the microscope enables real-time interface with the
tissue researchers are studying.

“We are very excited about our work with NASA scientists,”
said molecular biologist Dr. Doris K. Wu. She is acting chief
of the Section on Sensory Cell Regeneration and Development
in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the National
Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders,
Bethesda, Md. “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,” Wu Said.
“Our first collaborative project with Dr. Wu focuses on
unraveling key developmental processes of structures of the
inner ear involved in hearing,” Boyle said.

“The inner ear cells change when you are in space and this
impacts astronauts’ health,” said NASA astronaut and
physician Dr. Yvonne Cagle. “If we understand how these hair
cell reposition themselves, we can better understand what
happens over a long period of time in space,” she said.

Numerous sensory receptors in the inner ear help humans
detect sound and motion. The sensors also enable humans to
hear airborne sounds, feel themselves moving and sense the
presence of gravity. As the population ages hearing and
vestibular disorders rise, as evidenced by the dramatic
increase in falling and hearing loss in the elderly. Humans
exposed to the altered gravity conditions, such as those
experienced by astronauts, often acquired many symptoms
similar to those of vestibular patients.

“The remote aspects of this telescience capability is very
essential to doctors, scientists and especially to
astronauts,” Cagle said. “Our training schedule is very
constrained and time is very limited, so we have to use it
most efficiently. So it’s really exciting to be able to
actually interact with what is going on without physically
being there,” she said.

With RSEM, the microscope also becomes an engaging
educational tool. Students can send their research samples,
such as insects or plants, to NASA and work on their science
projects using the SEM. Using a personal computer with
Internet capability, they can log onto the SEM with a video
projection system that allows demonstration and hands-on
microscope operation.

“Remote SEM allowed students direct participation in the
scientific process to an extent that previous projects could
not, particularly because of the limited availability of
scientific materials in the school,” said Anand Kulkarni.
Kulkarni is outreach coordinator for the Space Science
Outreach and Research Program, a non-profit organization in
Berkeley, Calif., that brings science courses into inner-city
high schools. “The flexibility to conduct research of their
own choosing engaged students better that the previous
projects did,” Kulkarni said. “This time, for example, they
were studying hair damage caused by peroxide bleaching.”

For information about the Remote Scanning Electron Microscopy
project on the Internet, visit:

http://biovis.arc.nasa.gov

SpaceRef staff editor.