They’re kind of tricky. Some people love them. Love to look at them and catch them and play with them and learn about them.

Other people just like to squash them as soon as they amble across their paths.

Today, in the DreamExtreme classroom, we had the extraordinary opportunity to look at bugs up close. And by “up close”, I mean REALLY up close! Like 5000 times magnified up close! Thanks to a tweet from one of my Twitter teacher friends and the amazing generosity of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we got to control a powerful electron microscope to view bug specimens collected by our students.

It’s part of the Bugscope program. According to their website:

The Bugscope project provides free interactive access to a scanning electron microscope (SEM) so that students anywhere in the world can explore the microscopic world of insects. This educational outreach program from the Beckman Institute’s Imaging Technology Group at the University of Illinois supports K-16 classrooms worldwide.

Bugscope allows teachers everywhere to provide students with the opportunity to become microscopists themselves—the kids propose experiments, explore insect specimens at high-magnification, and discuss what they see with our scientists—all from a regular web browser over a standard broadband internet connection.

I’ve seen images produced with electron microscope for most of my life but this was my first chance at actually seeing one in action. Better still, we were able to control the microscope remotely over the internet from our classroom! If the students wanted to zoom in a little more or pan the image to the right, no problem! Just a couple of clicks with the mouse and we were in business.

1 Pill-Bug-Head-400x311The way technology can bridge distance and allow students close contact with resources previously available only in specialized facilities or major cities is profound. The chances of my school ever acquiring an electron microscope of our own are nonexistent. Today, however, we may as well have had one. The experience was virtually as amazing as being on the campus of University of Illinois for real.

Bugs: up close and in our faces.

Thank you, Bugscope! Now our dreams will be jam-packed with insect heads, and thoraxes, and abdomens. Oh, my.