Digital Diagnostics

March 2, 2017

Digital Diagnostics

            I imagine most people’s first response to ‘digital diagnostics’ is, “What in the world is he talking about today?” Actually I’m asked that frequently, but that’s another story for another day! While digital diagnostics is not a term you probably use around the kitchen table or at the coffee shop, especially if you want anyone to sit with you, it is a useful tool that is available as close as your local Nebraska Extension office.

            The equipment consists of a small, lighted microscope on a stand that is connected to a computer. With this set up a person can enlarge it on their computer monitor or take an image of whatever is placed under the lens and then share that image with others. By adjusting the height of the lens, the operator can zoom in on a very small object or back out for a larger object.

            To give you an idea of how small of an object can be photographed, I took an image of the date on a penny (image attached). Then I pulled that image up on my computer and made the date as big as the full size of my computer monitor without the image becoming pixelated - which is a fancy word for the image losing sharpness and getting grainy.

            You can imagine the possibilities this has in identifying insects, weeds, plants, or plant diseases. A person can bring in a specimen - an insect, a diseased leaf, a flower, etc. and I can blow it up for easier identification or diagnosis. If I can’t identify or diagnose the specimen, I simply take a couple images of it and email them to the digital diagnostic network and someone will respond with the answer. The goal is for someone to respond to a submission to the network within 24 hours.

            The microscope makes it easier to see a sample compared to using a hand lens or magnifying glass and I can take a sharper image than I could using a smartphone or even a typical digital camera. The limitation to the system is, about four to five inches is the maximum size of an object that can be photographed. I would use a digital camera for any sample or specimen larger than that.

            So if I wanted to take an image of a whole corn plant, I would use a digital camera. But if I wanted to get a closeup of a lesion on a corn leaf, the digital diagnostic equipment would work better. Primarily, I have used this equipment to take images of insects and close-ups of diseases on plants.

            I have not done it here, but a neighboring Nebraska Extension office used it when someone brought in a section of snake they had run over with a lawnmower. The person bringing in the sample wanted to know what kind of snake it was and if the snake was poisonous. They were able to photograph the snake segment and send it to someone for identification. They had a response back the next day. (It was NOT poisonous!)

            So if you have something that needs identified or diagnosed, be aware that this technology is available as close as your local Nebraska Extension office. The staff there can use it to aid in their assessment of your sample. If they are not able to answer your question about it, it is very easy for them to share a few images with other Extension staff that might be better able to provide you with an accurate answer. The best thing is, there is no charge for this service.

            So if you have a plant, an insect, a plant disease, or something else you need identified or diagnosed, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.