The first virtual diatom course through Iowa Lakeside Laboratory brought together participants from across the U.S. and across the pond in Ireland and the Philippines. The need to achieve learning objectives in an online environment inspired the use of technologies. Notably, these technologies are completely free and open source, including GIMP, ImageJ, R, and Biigle. In particular, Biigle was an effective and user-friendly tool for learning to identify diatom taxa found on digital scans of entire microscope slides. The slide scans also provided an opportunity to create voucher floras and further develop skills needed to distinguish morphological characteristics between taxa.

Course Objectives

  1. Students learned how to visualize the three-dimensional structure of diatom frustules and how to describe diatom morphological characteristics. Students will understand the information on taxon pages (e.g.,
  2. Students learned how to group morphological operational taxonomic units reflecting a good understanding of diatom life cycles.
  3. Students developed a working knowledge of North American diatom genera and basic rules of nomenclature.
  4. Students developed a general understanding of how diatom data are assembled, quality checked, and applied to answer ecological research questions.


Many thanks to the diatom community and science communicators for enhancing and providing resources for the course, including guest lecturers (Mark Edlund, Paula Furey, Bryan Kennedy, Jeffery Stone), collaborators (Andrea Burfeid, Michael Kloster), the Diatom Web Academy,, ISDR Diatom of the Month blog, and Journey to the Microcosmos.


  • Charles Reimer Scholarship - Ryan Smazal

  • Eugene Stoermer Scholarship - Lawrence Victor D. Vitug


Gareth Elder

Undergraduate Microscopy Student Central Michigan University

Heidi Abresch

PhD Student Ecology and Evolution, The University of Montana

Hunter Carrick

Professor of Aquatic Ecology Dept. of Biology & Institute for Great Lakes Research, Central Michigan University

Oliver McLellan

Ph.D. Candidate The Ohio State University

Janai Southworth

Guest Instructor Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA

Veronica A. Hamilton

M.S. student Wyatt Lab at Ball State University, Muncie, IN

Ryan Smazal

PhD Candidate Dundalk Institute of Technology

Lawrence Victor D. Vitug

University Research Associate UPLB Los Banos Ecoinformatics Laboratory

Mark Edlund

Content Editor, Centric Diatoms Diatoms of North America, Editoral Review Board

Senior Scientist Science Museum of Minnesota

Paula Furey

Content Editor, Eunotioid Diatoms Diatoms of North America, Editoral Review Board

Freshwater Ecologist Department of Biology, St. Catherine University

Jeffery Stone

Content Editor Diatoms of North America, Editoral Review Board

Professor of Environmental Geosciences Indiana State University

Sylvia Lee

Biologist U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Mindy Morales-Williams

University of Vermont

Bryan Kennedy

Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland

Biigle slide
Image Credit: Sylvia Lee
Slide scan annotated in Biigle
Salt Lake, MN Plankton Voucher Flora
Image Credit: Janai Southworth
Slide scan voucher flora made in GIMP
Diatom models of Discostella and Cavinula
Image Credit: Heidi Abresch, Veronica Hamilton
Low-tech but effective way to learn diatom morphological features