The design of usable access to a large open microscopy environment

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee


The proposed research is about the investigation of interaction design to enable ease of access by the life sciences community to large collections of images produced by the latest microscopes. These images are often produced in large sets over a period of time, of images which may be difficult to distinguish one from another without enlargement, making selection of images which are interesting for a particular purpose very difficult. In addition, scientists may wish to examine images which come from different sets but which relate to one another for the purposes of their current investigation or project. A computer interface is required which will enable scientists to sift through sets of images from different sources to build a collection. The interface must also facilitate management of the resulting collection, including the results of analyses carried out on images. A further challenge is that these images are very large (i.e. consume large amounts of disk space) and are very slow to transmit over some networks.The first phase of the study will examine current practice and image management needs in the life sciences community using observational, ethnogaphic and survey techniques, and carry out a thorough analysis of the usability of current interfaces to image collections, using the Open Microscopy Environment as an example. This will be done through expert review, observational and experimental techniques in which scientist volunteers will be asked to carry out particular tasks within a given scenario. Such a study will enable the investigators to determine the functional needs of scientists in different scenarios, which will lead to the design of new interfaces in the second stage of the research. These interfaces will be designed to meet the requirements gathered during the first phase, to address usability issues identified, and will make use of best practice research from the human computer interaction, design and interactive system communities. Using scenarios based on what researchers want to do with the systems, these prototype designs will be thoroughly evaluated with a view to their further refinement in the third phase of the project.The research will deliver an improved user environment for the life sciences community to the Open Microscopy Environment, but more importantly, will provide a platform for deriving general principles for the design of interactive systems for the management and research use of large sets of large and diverse data. These general principles will be applicable to many other e-science endeavours across the scientific community. The investigators will disseminate their findings through conference and journal publications and in addition will prepare a monograph which will explain the techniques and processes involved in the investigation, as well as the findings. The study will result in new interfaces for the Open Microscopy Environemt, new interaction styles for e-science, and will also add to the body of knowledge about investigating the optimum design of such complex interactive systems.


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