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Rare opportunity at the National Stone Centre

Scanning electron microscope

Scanning electron microscope gets school pupils up close and personal with insects and microorganisms

THE high-tech lens of a precision scanning electron microscope will give Derbyshire schools and community groups a rare opportunity to see the natural world in minute detail in workshops at the National Stone Centre in Wirksworth.

This state-of-the-art-microscope, usually found only in laboratories, can magnify objects to many thousands of times their original size, allowing viewers to see microscopic details on insects and microorganisms living on rocks, footpaths, and in restored quarries.


The opportunity has been made possible thanks to a collaboration with EarthBound, a project led by local Derbyshire artists Kate Bellis, wildlife photographer Alex Hyde, and sculptor Sally Matthews, with support from the Longcliffe Community Fund and the Institute of Quarrying.

As part of the EarthBound project, the scanning electron microscope (SEM) has been made available courtesy of a loan from the Hitachi High-Tech America STEM Educational Outreach Programme, with support from the Royal Microscopical Society, Oxford Instruments, The Institute for Research in Schools, Hitachi High-Tech Europe, and the Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum has been working with EarthBound artists to prepare samples and train them to utilize the portable SEM so that they can run sessions related to the school curriculum, as well as workshops with local community groups.

Anthony Elgey, education and skills project manager at the Institute of Quarrying, said: ‘The Institute of Quarrying is delighted to welcome the scanning electron microscope to the National Stone Centre. It’s an exciting project for the local community to get involved with and it fits well with the Institute’s STEM outreach activities, which aim to engage future generations with the wider minerals industry.’

Viv Russell, managing director of Longcliffe Quarries, said: ‘The whole project gives the industry an opportunity to show off its environmental and community credentials. It is a unique partnership between Longcliffe, the EarthBound project, the Institute of Quarrying and the National Stone Centre to demonstrate that there is a real living world beneath our feet and that as an industry we continue to protect and enhance it.’

Alex Ball, head of imaging and analysis at the Natural History Museum, added: ‘I first met Kate Bellis and Alex Hyde during the exhibition of the Hill, when it was exhibited in Peckham, London. At the time, I was really impressed with the community spirit that surrounded the whole project. It’s been great to be involved in the development of EarthBound and I’m so glad that we could send the SEM up to Wirksworth.’

The SEM is at the National Stone Centre for one week (25–30 October) before it continues to tour other regions. Among those participating in the sessions at the National Stone Centre are Anthony Gell School, Haarlem Art Space, University of the Third Age, and Derby Children’s Services.

‘Fantastic would be an understatement,’ commented one Year 8 student at Anthony Gell School, whilst a Year 7 student from the school remarked: ‘It was really cool looking at tiny things up close to see what they actually look like in detail.’

Wildlife photographer Alex Hyde added: ‘Watching children and adults alike on the edge of their seats as they explore nature at a scale they never imagined possible has been incredibly rewarding. Time and time again, Kate and I have witnessed the SEM bring out the inquisitive spirit in everyone who has used it. Together we have been on a voyage of discovery, learning a great deal about the little creatures that run the world.’

EarthBound is a project aimed to inspire the next generation to better understand and respect the incredible life, microorganisms, and fungal networks in the earth below. In 2022, the SEM will return to the National Stone Centre as part of the EarthBound Show. Future details will be announced via: To find out more about the National Stone Centre, visit:


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