5 Creative Ways to Teach Confocal Microscopy to Keep Students Engaged

Anjaney Kothari

Confocal microscopy is a sophisticated imaging technique which offers impeccable resolution and precision for imaging cells. It can provide unprecedented insights into cellular phenomena and aid discoveries that could one day change lives.

But confocal microscopy is not just about imaging. It is also about how the researcher prepares the cell or tissue samples. It also requires that researchers know how to make the most of the many features of the confocal imaging software. And hard as it may seem, it also helps if the researcher understands the physics of the confocal microscope.

How can educators creatively teach confocal microscopy so as to fuse all aspects of this technique into one engaging lesson? Here, we list five creative ways to make confocal microscopy an easy learning experience for your students.

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

Obtaining high-resolution images using confocal microscopy is a long-drawn process, but interactive models can teach it all in a snap. From the biology of the sample preparation to the physics of the microscope itself, interactive models allow students to play around with otherwise intangible entities like proteins and light beams.

For example, in Labster’s confocal microscopy simulation, students:

·       virtually collect diseased barley samples from a farm,

·       stain the samples with a fluorescent dye in a virtual lab, and

·   perform laser scanning confocal microscopy of the stained samples.

Throughout this simulation, the students also get to sneak a peek into the inner workings of the microscope.

Confocal microscope setup in a virtual lab.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

When teaching concepts as heavily loaded as confocal microscopy, it is useful to ease the pressure with games and activities. As an added advantage, things that one learns while having fun have a way of etching themselves in the memory.

For example, students can volunteer to become different components of a confocal microscope – lenses, dichroic mirror, pinhole, detector, and others. A ball could fill in for the light beam. The students will pass the ball, as in football, to the next ‘component’ along the path of the light beam. A little bit of fun, and a lot of learning!

3. Accelerate Learning by Incorporating Technology

A lot of the behind-the-scenes functioning of a confocal microscope can befuddle both new and experienced users. Simply looking at a diagram on a whiteboard is not enough to grasp the path of the microscope’s laser beam. Bring in simulation and virtual reality technology to help your students experience the light traveling through the many contraptions in the confocal microscope.

Labster’s confocal microscopy simulation, for example, allows students to follow the laser beam’s path through a virtual microscope. It also lets the students play with imaging parameters like scan speed and exposure to obtain the best possible image.

A holotable for confocal microscopy in a virtual lab.
Discover Labster's Confocal Microscopy virtual lab today!

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

Many students don’t realize this, but confocal microscopy has the potential to become a defining part of their careers. When they do realize this, their inspiration to learn confocal microscopy inside out will increase multifold. Take it upon yourself to bring your students to this realization – that they can turn confocal microscopy into a career.

Tell your students how tissue engineers use confocal microscopy to test cell viability and proliferation in engineered tissues. Or how microbiologists use confocal microscopy to image the complex diversity of gut bacteria in intestinal tissue samples. Or how if they want to improve upon the technique, they can even become scientists for a confocal microscope manufacturer.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Applications

Students develop more respect for any subject matter when they are aware of its applications in the real world. To make confocal microscopy exciting for your students, discuss some real-life scenarios where this imaging technique will be useful.

For example, tell your students how confocal microscopy can help confirm which proteins cancer cells make more than normal cells. Talk to them about how confocal microscopy can track the movement of immune cells towards a site of infection. Not just that, it can also help find out which biological factors could impede the movement of these immune cells. These real-world applications can inspire a sense of wonderment in the students, and encourage them to learn.

Final thoughts

Almost all areas of biology – like microbiology, cancer biology, botany, regenerative medicine – rely on confocal microscopy for imaging cellular phenomena. It is pertinent that researchers learn how to use this technique to their advantage. The methods that we have discussed here help teach the nitty-gritty of confocal microscopy in a creative and stimulating manner.

Try our free 30-day All Access Educator's Pass today and play the Confocal Microscopy simulation alongside 300+ other virtual labs!
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