NAGT > Teaching Resources > Teaching Activities > An Electron Microprobe in the Classroom: A Remote-Access System for Education

An Electron Microprobe in the Classroom: A Remote-Access System for Education

Ellery Frahm
Electron Microprobe Laboratory, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: Dec 12, 2013

In 2003, the University of Minnesota's Electron Microprobe Laboratory implemented a new system for remote research and education via the Internet. The remote-access system allows real-time access to our microprobe using only standard web browsers. Students can, for instance, view electron images of a thin section, ask for certain grains to be analyzed, and see the resulting X-ray spectra.



The system has been used for a variety of course types and levels, principally undergraduate petrology and mineralogy courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Students should know at least some introductory mineralogy; in addition, readings or basic descriptions of the electron microprobe provided beforehand are helpful.

How the activity is situated in the course:

Professors have used our system at various points in undergraduate petrology and mineralogy courses.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

Various topics can be addressed: mineral identification classification, mineral formulae, pressure-temperatue determinations, common mineral assemblages, and so forth.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

Decision making; clarification and application of mineralogy and petrology knowlege; students engaged analytical process; students can, for instance, view electron images of a thin section, ask for certain grains to be analyzed, and see the resulting X-ray spectra; data are collected from the students' own samples, and students are involved in the decisions made during electron probe microanalysis.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Exposure to state-of-the-art instruments used to analyze geologic materials; seeing the "real thing" vs. reading a book description; learning about modern instrument operation, data acquisition, and analysis procedures.

Description of the activity/assignment

Our remote access system permits students to interact with our electron microprobe and obtain visual information about the tasks performed by lab personnel. Students in a petrology class, for instance, can view backscatter-electron images of a particular sample, ask for specific points to be analyzed, and immediately see the resulting spectrum of characteristic X-rays. With this interaction, such an exercise is more much pedagogically effective. Our video streams mean that students do not need to know how to operate the instrumentation – that is not the point for students in a mineralogy or petrology course. Instead, seeing a live backscatter-electron image or an X-ray spectrum from a point they chose catches the interest of students and allows them to make decisions while they learn about mineral associations. Many classrooms are now equipped with Internet connections and a computer with a projection system. As a result, a lecturer in such a classroom can project our video streams onto a screen or wall so that the entire class can observe the analysis of a sample. Lab rooms also often have internet-capable computers, so a small group of students could, on the phone, ask lab personnel to move to some point on a sample and examine a specific crystal.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation can be the same as a similar textbook-based lab exercise; professors or TAs can also facilitate and ask relevant questions during the session.

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Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Mineralogy, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity, Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Graduate/Professional, College Upper (15-16), College Lower (13-14), High School (9-12)
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Topics: Solid Earth:Mineralogy
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Petrology, Mineralogy