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Mott Middle College Students Operate Microscope in California for US Ignite Project

A collaborative project between Mott Middle College, Genesee Intermediate School District, the University of Southern California and US Ignite recently brought the high-powered tools of advanced microbiology to a lucky group of Mott Middle College students in Flint. Using Internet2, the GenNET Network and Merit Network, the biology class was able to remotely operate a 4K digital cinema microscope thousands of miles away at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. The special project, led by USC Associate Research Professor Richard Weinberg, enabled the high school students to experience immersive technology for the first time.
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microscope photo

USC Associate Research Professor Richard
Weinberg developed the special microscope
used for the project.

[/visibility] To begin the project, the high school overnighted pond water samples from Flint to USC. The students then videoconferenced with Weinberg and interacted remotely with the device he invented, a microscope that incorporates a 4K camera normally used to make Hollywood movies. The process was thrilling for the class. Each student learned to use the special software that controlled the microscope in Los Angeles, and they took turns manipulating the device to study microscopic organisms in the samples of pond water. Live video from the microscope was transmitted back to the large screens in the Flint classroom.

“(The students) thought it was very cool,” said Mott Middle College Principal Margaret Green. “The other classes were super jealous that they didn’t have that opportunity, and a lot of students popped into that class because they wanted to participate. It was very exciting.”

The pilot project was initiated by US Ignite and made possible through a grant from the Mozilla Foundation, which allowed the school to purchase large screen televisions and a couple of laptops.

“We were approached by US Ignite. They came here and reviewed Flint as a potential site for their nationwide rollout,” said Matt Stark, technical services manager for Genesee Intermediate School District. “One of the reasons that Flint was selected is because we have this 10 gigabit backbone between all of our districts, the GenNET Network, and we’re also connected to all of the higher eds with FANET (Flint Area Network for Education and Television). They had been working with Kettering University on a separate grant for their GENI rack, and this was one of the projects that US Ignite brought to us. It’s pretty exciting.”

To make the project a reality, Genesee ISD upgraded the bandwidth capacity of its connection to Mott Middle College, increasing it to 10 gigabits-per-second. The district also worked with Merit to connect to Internet2 and set up a VLAN connection to USC.
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Mott Middle College and Genesee logos

[/visibility] “Utilizing GISD/Merit’s unique 10 Gigabit connections, this collaboration allowed student researchers in Flint (and ultimately Chattanooga) to capture local microorganisms and then view them through the 4k microscope at USC on local 4k flat panel screens in near real-time and simultaneously hold high definition video conferences among students, researchers and citizen scientists,” said Bill Wallace, executive director for US Ignite.

“We really appreciated Merit’s engineers getting that connection established over Internet2, because with something like this, it took so much bandwidth that there’s no way you could have done this over the regular internet,” Stark stated. “It would have been laggy. It would have been choppy. You probably would have lost connectivity, so that’s the real benefit of having Internet2 available for this type of project, or telemedicine, for example. We’re looking forward to working with US Ignite and other partners in capturing Internet2 resources for students to utilize going forward.”

“We get overwhelmed by technology sometimes, but here it was made very simple. Our ISD, Matt and his team, took care of everything so effectively that it made it painless and even fun, for our teacher,” Green added.

Mott Middle College was the second school in the nation to participate in the US Ignite/USC microscope project, following STEM School Chattanooga. Wallace hopes that the pilot project is the start of bigger things.

“We hope that this pilot is a first step toward creation of a sustainable gigabit-enabled learning platform that could lead to additional collaboration between high schools in Flint and Chattanooga (e.g., sharing Kettering’s electron microscope with Chattanooga STEM students), two universities (e.g., sharing research projects between professors at Kettering and professors at the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga) and two science centers (e.g., sharing content between Flint’s Longway Planetarium and Chattanooga’s Aquarium).