DIY microscopy: smartphone and LEGOs for Cell Biology

Stay geek, love biology. This is the very simple philosophy I adopted since I was a freshman, and it is turning out really useful. I really wish to all of you in research to get proper funding for your projects, and to enjoy DIY as a funny and brainy activity. But, if you are out of money in your lab (e quindi, forse, riuscite a leggere questa frase), you may consider DIY as a survival strategy. In this post, I will expose a couple of ways to do a simple, but still very effective microscope for explicative usage. When I was making my thesis in the wet labs of the Faculty of Medicine at Sapienza University, I very often faced the problem to find an available microscope. And very often I used to ask myself how could I build one.

You can use your smartphone…

Even if many of you might have seen this, since the video is rolling around the web for a while, I would like to mention this tutorial on how to build a microscope with your smartphone.

This video has been published almost one year ago on instructibles, the MIT-born website that allows users to share their DIY projects and experience. Surfing the site, you can actually find a lot of tricks and tutorials for your DIY microscopy experience, meant for beginners and experienced makers.

…or maybe build it from scratch…

Experienced geeks will love the very wide focus given to DIY microscopy given by Hackteria, a landmark website for DIY biology community. The point here is not to convert your mobile into a microscope, but to build one from scratch by assembling simple components. Hackteria provides a detailed wiki to those who are in the mood to accept the challenge.

…or just using LEGO!

I cannot really give a tutorial for this, but this story worths a mention. Today, the Google Science Fair winners have been announced.  Even if Mark Drobnych in not on the podium, the 13 y/o boy from Uzhgorod, in western Ukraine, gets our full attention for having used a LEGO Mindstorms kit to create a microscope that teachers can use to show students images on a projection screen. There is also a Web to let schools around the world compare images. He came up with the idea to help those institutions that don’t have enough money to supply each child with a microscope.

I am very happy for him, since he comes from a country seriously flared by an insane war, and I really believe that Science, work and passion may be a great way out from war and tyranny. On Scientific American, you can read the description of some of the finalist projects at GSF.

But still loving ol’ Zeiss

In all the cases shown here, optical microscopes can be build from anyone with a fairly good resolution. Anyways, we need to keep in mind that resolution is not the only thing to take into account when you rate a microscope. Optical aberrations correction is maybe the most important feature of a microscope, crucial to determine the success when you submit your pictures to a journal. So, DIY microscopy can be very funny, useful for small and educational usage, but still far to replace advanced commercial solutions. Try this at home, but don’t trust it too much at lab.




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