Scientists can now operate a microscope thousands of kilometres away using their own desktop computer thanks to TelePresence Microscopy (TPM).
"TPM is a concept CSIRO has adapted from the Department of Energy in the US," says Mr Colin MacRae, electron microscopist at CSIRO Minerals where the microscopes are based.
"We have improved the data security and added the interactivity and speed of Java to build a TPM system unique in its power in Australia. The outcome is a huge increase in productivity, cost savings and empowerment of scientists irrespective of their location".
Researchers can view and manipulate the microscope's images and the analysed data on screen, in real-time, in a secure environment without ever having to leave their office. An intuitive interface allows the user to operate the microscope as though they were actually standing by the instrument itself.
"At around $1 million apiece, there are only a small number of electron microscopes this powerful in Australia, but there are a lot of people needing to use them," says Mr MacRae.
"The benefits exceed those provided by remote control alone. TPM's Java component means that the secure electronic notebook in which a user records images and data is itself interactive and can be re-worked off-line," he says.
Geologists, chemists and biologists all make use of the TPM system to determine everything from qualitative x-ray spectra of geological specimens to quantitative strontium and calcium ratios in fish ears used to find out a fish's age and the water temperature encountered during its life.
TPM in combination with an analysis and data interpretation software package called CHIMAGE, provides key tools to solve microscopic and macroscopic problems.
"When more CHIMAGE features are incorporated into the electronic notebook, delivery of remote microscopy will be enhanced even further," he says.
"We are at the forefront of data delivery and manipulation in electron microscopy in Australia," says Mr MacRae.
"The key to solving a client's microscopy problem is to combine their intimate knowledge and skills with our expertise in electron microscopy. TPM allows this interaction to happen without the client leaving their office or plant. Even with the finest technology, the human interaction is of paramount importance."
The promise of TPM is that this can be achieved from the most remote location. The world then becomes our market."
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