Blended Learning

Penn State DuBois Professor Integrates Imaging Tech with Hybrid Class

Neyda M. Abreu, an associate professor of earth sciences at Penn State DuBois, is incorporating imaging technology and electron microscopy into her hybrid course, giving students an opportunity to interact virtually with geologic specimens and formations.

Abreu is using GigaPan technology to collect images of geological specimens from nearby Raystown Lake. GigaPan is based on the same technology that the Mars rover uses to take photos. It has a robotic arm that holds a digital camera to continuously shoot hundreds of high-resolution photos. Abreu will use GigaPan Stitch Software to merge the photos into a single, panoramic image and post them on an interactive Web site, where students will be able to pan and zoom to view the site from high above or zoom in to fine details.

Abreu is also using electron microscopy to enable students to view geologic specimens at an atomic level. Electron microscopy requires the rocks to be sliced to as thin as a tenth of the diameter of a strand of hair, so a beam of electrons can pass through the sample, "increasing the magnification up to 1 million times and producing X-rays that reveal the samples' chemical composition," according to a news report from Penn State.

Eventually, Abreu hopes to take aerial photos of the geologic site, so students will be able to zoom all the way from the bird's-eye view down to the atomic structure of the rocks through a single online interface.

"I wanted the opportunity to use technology to probe geological sites outside the human scale," said Abreu in the Penn State report. "For example, if you're out in the field, you don't always have the chance to take a plane to see the landscape from above or use a powerful microscope to zoom in close. This project will allow students to do that in the classroom."

Abreu's project was funded by Penn State's Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL).

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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