UniServe€Science News: Newsletter of the Science Software Clearinghouse Vol. 2, November 1995

96,000 high resolution images on one disc? In your dreams!

David Patterson is Head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney and Deputy Director (Biological Sciences) at UniServe*Science

Dianne Chambers is the Educational Technologist for the Biological Sciences at UniServe*Science
It is hard to describe this product without sinking to expletives, but in principle Jeremy Pickett-Heaps' disc on cells (Living Cells: Structure, Diversity and Evolution) is *#*!# brilliant.

We are offered a trek around the high grounds of light microscopy and cell biology, in this both glorious and instructive compilation of material about living cells. In it we have images of living cells by many types of light microscopy -- dark ground, phase contrast, polarized light, Nomarski -- and at a level that sets the standards. This allows us to view in living material cell components such as Golgi bodies, mitochondria and single microtubules. This material should be obligatory in any course on cell biology, as we can imagine no better way to introduce students to the spectacle of cell biology. Obligatory viewing might alert both them (and even some of their teachers) to the amazing things that cells can do and lead them to understand what it is that captivates hordes of cell biologists world-wide. Not only does the microscopy set the standard, but the disc is also peppered by delightful little bits of whimsy which serves to add to the fascination.

This disc is arranged in a series of sections, referred to as chapters. In most, the images are presented in excess of 20 per second -- so providing flickerless movie reconstruction of the original phenomena. The chapters cover: Introduction; Cell membrane; Nucleus and nucleolus; Mitochondria; Endoplasmic reticulum (yes you can see it in living cells); Golgi bodies; Interphase microtubules; chromatophores; Axopodia in heliozoans (sic); Mitosis in animal cells; Mitosis in higher plant cells; Actin and cytoplasmic movement; Actin and streaming in plant cells, Streaming in Chara and Nitella; Actin and cell cleavage; Flagella and motility -- biflagellated algae; multiflagellated algae and protozoans (sic); Flagella and prey capture; Sexual reproduction in Chlamydomonas, Feeding in Epipyxis; Cell walls; Contractile vacuoles; Vacuoles and turgor pressure; Vacuoles and the evolution of defence mechanisms: Diffenbachia; turgor pressure and growth; Symbiosis and chloroplasts.

The chapters are accompanied by two sound tracks which explain what is being observed. One of the sound tracks is suitable for the secondary level and the other for tertiary level. In addition there is a handbook with a short description of the contents of each chapter (although these do not always accurately describe the contents of the chapters). The book also includes bar codes so that the disc player can be programmed to play selected sections of the disc. Between many of the chapters are clusters of still images -- sometimes of electron micrographs. There are also reconstructions from confocal microscopy.

The material is ideally suited to use as illustrative materials in lectures, or for small group seminars, or to illustrate practical classes in cell biology or microscopy. Indeed, it shows some phenomena which could be easily adapted into experiments for undergraduate students. The material is (rightly) very rich in protistan examples, and could have an effective role to play in microbiological courses. The quality of the microscopy is outstanding. The images are staggeringly beautiful. The product is an excellent extension of the earlier IWF cell biological disc. Does it have any faults? Extremely few. Every now and then we have oxymorons such as single celled animals, or Noctiluca is referred to as an alga. But most users will not detect these small items.

So how do you get almost 100,000 images of such dazzling (full size) quality on one disc. By using analogue technology, of course. The potency and power of this medium has been largely overlooked with the emergence of digital technology. But to get this number of pictures at postcard size onto magnetic discs, you would need to have over a thousand of them. If you went up to full screen images, and if you were also willing to accept the degradation into a pixelated condition, and if you were to use CD-ROMs for their higher capacity, you would still be faced with having to buy many CDs. Even with the emerging MPEG technologies, individual frames cannot be viewed as MPEG compression technique does not allow it.

So why not treat yourself to this wonderful spectacle. And then open your world to the array of discs available from people such as IWF, BBC, and Videodiscovery who can serve the image-rich needs of Biology in a way that can only be realised by digital technology at extremely high cost.

David J. Patterson & Dianne Chambers

Living Cells: Structure, Diversity and Evolution
Jeremy & Julianne Pickett-Heaps 1994 Sinaeur Associates, Sunderland, Mass.

Supplier: Micron BioSystems, 650 South Cherry Street, Suite 440, Denver Co 80222-1806 USA

Cost: US$600 includes companion Macintosh or Windows accessing software.

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