Remote microscopy laboratories for STEM education

Remote microscopy laboratories are expected to allow students to examine real samples on real microscopes, without having to physically attend the actual laboratory. They would simply log in using a web browser, select microscopes holding the sample(s) of interest, and then pan, focus and adjust filters using buttons on the web interface that send commands to the motors on the microscope. A camera image of the sample is sent back in real time, for a real-time, emotionally-engaging experience. However, these mechanics are just the beginning of the story, and it is what happens next that deserves detailed exploration and research.
Remote laboratories are both urgently required and also fundamentally important beyond any pandemic conditions. They permit safe, accessible, flexible working with time to explore the subject(s). Thus they facilitate inclusivity and diversity and offer new ways of supporting learning journeys [1]. Work to date on virtual microscopes has highlighted the rich opportunities for further study in this area [2]. Microscopes are applicable across a wide range of subjects, from geosciences, medicine and veterinary medicine, biology, chemistry, engineering, textiles and manuscripts to name but some – thus touching on work in every corner of a University from the sciences to the humanities. Improvements to the tool itself have a wide potential impact, making it an attractive subject to research.  
In this PhD project, we are particularly interested in the interdependence of the design of the experimental interfaces and activities, and the ways that the resulting activities can be integrated into students’ learning. One of our aims is to better support the development of evaluative judgement skills in students [3], which is particularly relevant in microscopy tasks where it can be difficult to correctly identify and interpret the images. There are two main approaches, relying on either human-human interactions (either with other learners or facilitators) or human-technology interactions, either of which offer exciting possibilities for novel implementation and evaluation research, according to which best suits your background and interests.


Further Information: 

[1] Timothy D. Drysdale, Simon Kelley, Anne-Marie Scott, Victoria Dishon, Andrew Weightman, Richard James Lewis & Stephen Watts (2020) Opinion piece: non-traditional practical work for traditional campuses, Higher Education Pedagogies, 5:1, 210-222, DOI: 10.1080/23752696.2020.1816845
For an introduction to the concept of remote labs see these videos from Tim’s earlier award-winning large-scale remote laboratory work
[2] Herodotou, C. , Muirhead, D.K. , Aristeidou, M. , Hole, M.J. , Kelley, S. , Scanlon, E. , & Duffy, M. (2018). Blended and online learning: A comparative study of virtual microscopy in higher education. Interactive Learning Environments , 1–16. doi:10.1080/10494820.2018.1552874  
High precision 3D printed microscopes are now routinely available, facilitating the goals of this project. We are particularly excited about the openflexure microscope project  located at the University of Bath, which was established with EPSRC funding. A community has now sprung up, supported by a growing commercialisation effort from the project team. More information is available from   
[3] Boud, D. (Ed.), Ajjawi, R. (Ed.), Dawson, P. (Ed.), Tai, J. (Ed.). (2018). Developing Evaluative Judgement in Higher Education. London: Routledge,

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here:

Closing Date: 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree. Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.

A final-year project involving either microscopy, programming or digital education.
An existing example of programming in Javascript, and/or undertaking a small programming task we will devise



Tuition fees + stipend are available for Home/EU students (International students can apply, but the funding only covers the Home/EU fee rate).

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: