Zoomable micrographs
towards effective teaching of scale

Related topics

Get a feel for scale. Customize with your own content. [This is the old one. The new version isn't up yet].

Here is an opportunity.

Let's expose more micrographs as zoomable stacks, to explore their possible impact on education.

Lots of folks have nice micrographs sitting on disk. But few of them are online. And fewer still are licensed for reuse. Folks would often be happy to share, and often happy to create new ones for education. But no one asks.

Teaching scale is something generations of professors have wanted done better. It's part of every science and engineering program. But isolated and ineffective - a sidebar in some introductory course. NSF intermittently tries to fund the creation of something better. But as of 2012, teaching scale is still pervasively failing.

Interactive zoomables might help. It seems they can be popular. And at least somewhat helpful. But there's little data. It seems worth trying.

The tech exists to try. And has for years. And it's getting embarrassingly easy.

These pages are my attempt to make it straightforward to create and use zoomable micrographs. To encourage creation and use.

A simple example

Sorry, this simple example doesn't let you drag, or click, or do anything except zoom by moving the slider. I'm working on something better.

Putting micrographs online


  • Use a standard open license, like CC-BY-SA.
  • Avoid -NC (non-commercial). It's too blunt an instrument, interfering badly with collection and educational reuse. Eg, Wikipedia prohibits it. If your group sells its work, you can use -SA (Share Alike), which commercial publishers will pay to avoid, and/or create two versions: a lower-resolution, or otherwise damaged version, for reuse and education, and a better version to sell.
  • Use a scale bar, or equivalent (specified pixel or image lengths, or include calibration objects). Quoting Nx magnifications is too imprecise (to put unrelated micrographs next to each other, without it getting messy).
  • Capture multiple resolutions. To permit zooming. And an optical image of the object, so the zoom can start at magnification 1x.
  • Don't colorize. At least for my own work, false color is just one more bogosity I have to draw attention to, to avoid creating misconceptions.
  • Availability is more important than curation (or even postprocessing). Selecting the "one perfect image" of some object might be needed for dead-tree textbooks, but with google image search, getting it out there, and reusable, is more important.
  • Online anywhere is better than not, but ideally somewhere stable. The web has had lots of nifty micrographs - but someone moved or retired, and now they're gone.

Why put work online?

Content availability can have a surprisingly large impact on education quality.

For example, a common misconception is "blood is a liquid with some cells floating in it" (instead of it being a tightly-packed slurry of red blood cells). This misconception persists in part, because educational content uses images of blood smears as their picture of blood. Instead of closeups of bulk blood (real or simulated). Smear images are easily available, and bulk images aren't. The bulk images exist, on peoples' disks, and in their slides and papers. But few have made it online, and as of 2012, none with explicit licenses to encourage reuse. The problem isn't willingness ("Sure! Just send me email"), but the lack of custom, incentives, or mechanism, to make it happen.

Which raises the larger question of what might be done to systematically encourage folks to get work online. For example, Wikipedia has comments noting the need for a better image of blood, but it has no institutional mechanism to track and pursue such needs.

And as of 2012, it's now been some years since that "Sure!". I haven't gotten to the email. Neither has anyone else. And Wikipedia's Blood page still begins with a smear.


Surely there's a good "choosing a license" guide for open science and educational resources... somewhere? Link OER list? wikicommons?

Provide context for "don't colorize". Simulations and image enhancement creating misconceptions in education and outreach.

Create "Using micrographs" sections? Technical, and educational. Describe what I'm up to? Getting the zoom app available is the big advocacy win.

Create "finding micrographs" section. Mention PLOS blocking google image search. Include big search links (site: OR site: OR...) for open access journals.

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