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West Japan Univ. teacher sends microscopes to 73 students' homes for practical lessons

One of the optical microscopes sent to the homes of students at Doshisha University is seen in this image provided by Tomohiro Miyasaka, associate professor at the university.
Tomohiro Miyasaka, an associate professor at Doshisha University and the teacher behind an initiative to send microscopes to his students, is seen with a whiteboard he sometimes uses during online lessons, at the university in Tanabe, Kyoto, Prefecture, on June 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Kouki Matsumoto)

KYOTO -- With the spread of the novel coronavirus, universities in Japan remain unable to hold face-to-face lectures. But in response to these hurdles, one associate professor has sent microscopes to all 73 of his third-year students to help them continue their life sciences studies from home

Associate professor Tomohiro Miyasaka at the Doshisha University Faculty of Life and Medical Sciences' Department of Medical Life Systems decided to send the microscopes to give his students some practical tasks to do in their studies. Using them, students can observe cellular structures and produce sketches of them as part of at-home lessons.

While Doshisha University, in the western Japan city of Kyoto, does continue to give online lectures, associate professor Miyasaka said, "It's important to look at the real thing. I want the students to get a sense of the feelings and inspiration that can come from handling the study material themselves."

In the study of the human body's structure and functions module headed by Miyasaka, students use microscopes to observe organisms. But from April onward, limitations on entry to university buildings have meant that face-to-face classes and practical lessons haven't been able to go ahead at all.

Miyasaka did consider showing images of what the samples look like under the microscope and what can be observed online, but he felt compelled to stick to the real thing instead. Students were each sent an optical microscope capable of up to 40 times magnification -- the standard model used for practical work at universities in Japan. With each one worth just below 200,000 yen (about $1,870), Miyasaka used the school's stocks of the equipment. Delivery costs and other expenses came to about 200,000 yen, but he was able to pay it as part of the school's spending on practical learning. There was reportedly no opposition to the initiative at the school.

Miyasaka started preparations for the deliveries at the beginning of May. Some of his students have returned to family homes during the state of emergency, with some as far away as the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido. The microscopes are precision instruments, so special wooden boxes were used to transport them, along with cardboard ordered specifically for their delivery. Miyasaka then did a test dispatch to his own home to confirm whether they would arrive undamaged or not. By May 12, the microscopes had been sent out.

Along with the equipment, he also enclosed eight samples of rat and mouse tissue on glass slides. Students then observed the material through the microscopes, and sketched and photographed what they saw. The work is then mailed to Miyasaka, who gives them feedback such as whether they've missed cells in their reproductions as part of his once-a-week practical lesson.

The classes will end in mid-June, but he is planning to allow some leeway with the return of the microscopes -- until the middle of July. Miyasaka said, "I'd like them to use this opportunity to try and see many things near at hand to them, like water from a pond, under the microscope with their own eyes."

(Japanese original by Kouki Matsumoto, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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