The Electronic Pathologist: Internet-Based Tools as Methods of Collaboration in Marine Research
Considering the difficulty in getting your computer to stop crashing several times a day, it is a small wonder that professionals outside the IT community would even consider using technology to collaborate in increasingly complex ways. However, when this does happen, the potential benefits of online collaboration make themselves remarkably clear--both in how scientists interact with each other and with the general public.
The Santa Cruz Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center has attempted to use technology over the past several years to improve access to our ongoing research projects by both the general public and by affiliated research institutions. The two most recent projects have been a web-based collaborative photo gallery and a web-based camera system.
The photo gallery is a website accessible to any affiliated institutions or individuals with an appropriate username or password. The username and password given determine which areas of the photo gallery the user has access to, along with several other privileges, such as adding or removing images from an album within the gallery, adding or editing captions, or adding comments. The username and password also determine how high of a resolution the individual is allowed to view the photo at. Because one has so much fine control over what people can and can't do within the gallery, the gallery itself can be used for multiple purposes by multiple people. The photo gallery we host at the MWVCRC has several uses. It acts as an online photo album for researchers to view high-resolution gross pathology pictures from certain cases of interest within hours of when the necropsy was preformed. It serves as a step-by-step photo album for doing field necropsies on the California Sea Lion. It is also used to show current pictures of our live research animals to their primary veterinarians if they happen to be in the field.
The camera system is a web-based interactive video system. Our facility has six cameras that are accessible to researchers affiliated with the MWVCRC. A user simply has to log into a web page with an appropriate username or password. Once logged-in, the user has the ability to control the camera from their web browser. They can zoom in and out, pan left and right 360 degrees and tilt 180 degrees.
We have two cameras mounted in our necropsy building that can be controlled independently to give two separate vantage points of our examination room. Our exam room is also equipped with a speakerphone so that a researcher at a distant location can have all the advantages of being onsite--but without the smell.
We also have four cameras mounted within our live animal pool compound. These cameras are also capable of being remotely panned, tilted, and zoomed. Researchers (and soon the public) can log in and monitor the behavior of our captive otters. We can also archive several weeks of footage to review behavioral change, and conduct observations in which no human interaction is required.