VIDEO: Bringing STEM Students Down to the Nanoscale
Meghan Brown posted on August 17, 2016 |
Scanning electron microscope simulator helps kids explore the unseen world.

STEM education efforts are often most effective when they offer young engineers and scientists experiences that are as true to life as possible.

The USA Science and Engineering Festival is an ocean of cool and interesting STEM experiences, all coming together in an effort to encourage an interest in STEM fields in today’s youth.

Scanning electron microscope images of iron oxide, sildenafil crystals and mosquito eyes. (Images courtesy of FEI.)

Scanning electron microscope images of iron oxide, sildenafil crystals and mosquito eyes. (Images courtesy of FEI.)

One way to capture their interest is to show them something they can’t see every day.

Most kids interested in science and STEM enjoy playing with microscopes for this very reason – the opportunity to see things normally invisible to the human eye. So why wouldn’t they want to try out some of the most powerful microscopes in existence?

We all recognize the iconic images of materials at the nanoscale or smaller, in black and white and fine detail, showing us the hidden details of the world.  Unfortunately, scanning electron microscopes (SEM) are expensive and simply not available for any school that wants one.

But SEM experts from a company named FEI came to the USA Science and Engineering Festival with the next best thing – their virtual online electron microscope simulator that lets kids experience what it’s like to operate an SEM just like they would in the real world.

In the above video, Dan Hedges from ENGINEERING.com spoke with John Williams from FEI, who shared some details about the SEM simulator, and its role as part of FEI’s STEM education initiative called MyScope Outreach.

“Scanning electron microscopes are the more powerful way of imaging materials; they are more powerful than a light microscope,” said Williams.

The MyScope Outreach SEM simulator takes users through all the same steps that are involved in operating a real-life SEM.  “We’re trying to introduce kids, at an early age, to all the wonderful things that are happening at the microscopic level, down to the nano level, because it inspires curiosity,” Williams said.

“So kids can go online, they can actually operate an electron microscope, they can explore all different kinds of samples such as bugs, hairs, household items,” Williams continued. The website offers detailed explanations about the functions of an SEM, such as how focus and magnification work and how the electron beam and imaging equipment work together to produce those familiar images.

“Then they can go to our electron microscope simulator, and actually adjust the controls and feel like they are actually at the controls of an electron microscope.  They can focus, they can adjust the brightness, they can adjust the settings on the microscope, and then they can start zooming in on whatever they’re looking at,” Williams said.

As one of the more fun samples kids can look at, Williams added, “We’ve got an elephant foot hair in there, that they can zoom in and take a really, really close look at.”


Screenshot of the MyScope Outreach scanning electron microscope simulator showing magnification of an elephant foot hair. (Image courtesy of FEI.)
Screenshot of the MyScope Outreach scanning electron microscope simulator showing magnification of an elephant foot hair. (Image courtesy of FEI.)

The simulator is free to use, and packed with a variety of simulated samples for students to investigate. Teaching materials and other educational resources on SEM technology are also available to make it easy for educators to introduce this program to their students and classes.

For more information on scanning electron microscope technology, visit the FEI website. If you want to try your hand at the SEM simulator yourself, head over to MyScopeOutreach.org – and explore!

Recommended For You