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Take a walk on the wild side - on screen

IntelPlay's QX3 Computer Microscope brings nature closer via your computer suite. Vivi Lachs looks at how it can bring new excitement to the pursuit of science

They collected insects, put them into a little dish and looked at them down a microscopeI well, not really down a microscope actually, but they looked at them on a computer screen, in full colour and moving. They watched the spider running and the millipede mincing around the dish, and they recorded them doing it. The spider became a video and an earthworm became a still digital picture.

"I wonder," asked one student, "what would happen if we put the worm and the spider in the same dish?" They tried, and were intrigued by the results until another student who had been cutting single hairs from her friends' heads came up to view her specimens. These secondary school students were taking part in a Wild Weird half-term project at Highwire Hackney in east London's new City Learning Centre, and they had a new toy to play with which will no doubt revolutionise the making of interactive websites by adding video. They just had to share their results.

IntelPlay's QX3 Computer Microscope is a chunky Fisher Price-looking toy which, when installed on the right computer (NB carefully check the instructions - PC only, and only certain PCs) is tremendous fun, easy to use, and powerful. Essentially it is a microscope that magnifies objects 10, 60 or 200 times. It comes with small dishes to put specimens into as well as lids, so the escape of animals or liquids is not an option.

Although the microscope can be fixed on to a stand, it can be also be removed and carried around to magnify larger objects - eyes, ears and the inside of the mouth proved to be the real favourites.

The curriculum applications of the microscope are numerous, science being th most appropriate. At 200 times magnification you can see the pores in the skin or the cells in the saliva. Natural fibres such as wood and artificial fibres eg polymers, can be explored and identified. Rocks and crystals can be seen in great detail, becoming still images to be used in a project.

It is also possible to produce time-lapse photography, anything from one photograph per second to one per hour. This can show events such as a plant opening in the morning or water evaporating. Finally, the images can be saved as a movie, so animal movement can be explored, viewed and reviewed, at speed or frame by frame.

The microscope comes with a number of example specimens on slides for students to explore, but finding their own makes the scientific research much more personal, and gives the students a sense of ownership. The photographs created can be manipulated with simple paint tools to add a number of special effects. For more detailed work, images can be exported into a more complex paint program before being used on the Web. Videos can be saved and used for multimedia authoring, but will need to be edited using a specialist video editing program.

Taking wild insects and magnifying them 200 times looks decidedly weird. One student's Web page shows a curious messy image and asks the user to guess what it was. The choices are mud, worm or poo (well it was an out-of-school project in their own time). Thankfully it's not the latter but, from the wild to the computer suite, the guessing game certainly acted as a spur to looking at animals, rocks and leaves.

IntelPlay QX3 Computer Microscope Price: pound;89.95 from TAG 01474 537886

Online star rating

Suitability for purpose ***** Ease of use **** Design **** Quality of output ***** Value for money ****

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