The world is an interesting place, but it's fascinating up close.  Through the lens of a microscope you can find details that you would otherwise never notice.  But now you can.

This instructable will show you how to build a stand for about $10 that will transform your smartphone into a powerful digital microscope. This DIY conversion stand is more than capable of functioning in an actual laboratory setting. With magnification levels as high as 175x 375x Edit:  with the addition of a second lens magnification can be as high as 375x, plant cells and their nuclei are easily observed!  In addition to allowing the observation of cells, this setup also produces stunning macro photography.

The photos in this instructable were taken with an iPhone 4S.  

Watch the video below for a quick overview of the project!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools
The cost of this project is just $10 (not counting the smartphone), and it only takes about 20 minutes to build. You can be viewing cells with your smartphone within the hour!

Materials required:
3x 4 ½” x 5/16” carriage bolts
9x 5/16” nuts
3x 5/16” wing nuts
5x 5/16” washers
¾” x 7” x 7” plywood  -- for the base
⅛” x 7” x 7” plexiglass  -- for the camera stage
⅛” x 3” x 7” plexiglass  -- for the specimen stage
Scrap plexi (~ 2"x 4") for specimen slide (optional but useful)
laser pointer focus lens (use two for increased magnification)
LED click light (necessary only for viewing backlit specimens)

Assorted bits


Lights: http://www.amazon.com/FTmall-Pocket-Portable-Keychain-Flashlight/dp/B008O2KKYW/ref=lh_ni_t?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A2B8SF4TS2YZYV
Lenses: If you don't have a laser, these lenses have produced comparable results:  http://www.aixiz.com/store/product_info.php/cPath/46/products_id/374/osCsid/37cabc139b4f03b0e0a522178defae7e

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Yoshinok (author) 1 year ago
The LED light that is used in this instructable:

Diamond Visions Inc 08-0775 Crazy Colored Stubby Keychain Led Flashlight

I understand that you can use others as well?

Love the simplicity of this and will definitely be taking inspiration. One question: how have you worked out the level of magnification you are getting?
Yoshinok (author)  Dean Wilson1 year ago
The magnification was determined by using calibration micrometer slides and comparing the images obtained by this apparatus to the images from a digital microscope of known magnification.
JohnG707 days ago

Not sure how anything close to 375X is acheived... how much of that magnification is digital, from the smartphone itself? I've doubled up lenses and my Moto X goes up to 4X and I'm not getting anything close to 375X...

I found a great app for android its cozy magnifier and microscope it increases the cell phone magnification to 64x search on play store and try it with attachment i cant as i dont get much crisp image because i have 5 megapixel camera
Thanks, I’ll check it out!
BenR111 month ago

If you order the blue glass laser lens from AixiZ that I recommend, make sure you e-mail the owner and request a lens suitable for cell phone microscopes. One of the batches I ordered didn't work right. If you let him know, he will send the right ones.

JohnG70 BenR117 days ago

Curious what was wrong/different about the first batch? I ordered these http://www.aixiz.com/store/product_info.php/cPath/46/products_id/374/osCsid/3 and aside from having to dremel the plastic casing to liberate the lenses, they were 7mm wide and worked okay. But stacking two together I never got anything close to 375X. Maybe 100X.

BenR11 JohnG707 days ago

I have tried about 6 different lenses. I am sure the ones you ordered work. I've got some of them.

These are better quality than the acrylic lenses you ordered though:


They are glass blu-ray lenses. They come with a brass casing that does not need to be removed. Apparently though, aixiz has two different types of these lenses. Some focus great, some don't. The owner told me to e-mail him whenever I ordered more (for school) and request that he hand-pick the type that works for cell phone microscopes. He replaced the bad ones for me. I ordered around 16.

I have pictures of the two types here:



TofuTigerr6 months ago

The lens just makes things blurry for me, and I'm using the exact same laser pointer as you have in the picture!

Ok, i got it fixed now, it was just I couldn't get the objects close enough. How did you get the stage stabilized? In order for the stage to move smoothly, I had to make the holes bigger, but now it's wobbly. Also, I can't get the magnification you have even with 2 lenses.

Had some of the same issues. With 2 lenses I got nowhere near 375X. Maybe some phones have better magnification? The specimen stage holes have to be just wide enough for the carriage bolt, with very little play or else it wobbles. I found the nuts underneath the camera stage prevented the specimen stage from getting close enough, so an extra piece of plexiglass under the slide raised it up so it worked okay.

Any helpful tips on getting the lens out of the black housing from the lenses bought in bulk? l bought the ones listed, totally scratched one up trying to get it out. Ideas? Anyone know what size drill bit works best for the suggested lenses?

If the lens has black housing around it, a dremel with a cutting disk on it carefully cutting perpendicular to the lens should be able to free it up. One of the suggested lenses was 7mm, and a 7mm drill bit would probably be a good idea. A little too big and the lenses are a little too loose.

JohnG7014 days ago

I used 1/4” instead of 5/16” hardware because it was difficult to source the wingnuts inexpensively. And I used the aixiz lenses in the link above, doubled up inside .22” plexi. The biggest trouble I have with this design is that the nuts underneath the camera stage prevent the specimen stage from raising up any closer than the width of the nut. I found that to focus property the two have to be just a millimeter or two away.

So to get around this I used another small piece of plexiglass on the specimen stage underneath the specimen to raise it up.

JohnG7019 days ago

Got these lenses


scratching my head how I'm supposed to liberate the lenses from the black plastic enclosures. Help!

SeanL7 JohnG7010 days ago

Get these instead: http://www.amazon.com/Collimating-lens-Focusing-Laser-Diodes/dp/B00SECAP1A/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1439782725&sr=8-3&keywords=laser+pointer+lens

kurts316 days ago

.. I Like it so much.. Very simple but great

Any helpful tips on getting the lens out of the black housing from the lenses bought in bulk? l bought the ones listed, totally scratched one up trying to get it out. Ideas? Anyone know what size drill bit works best for the suggested lenses?

I had exactly the same question. Did you get any answers?

HeidiDawn99 made it!1 month ago
I forgot to test the correct orientation of the lens to phone, so I may pop the lens out, turning it over if needed. I made one for a kids gardening class, if it's useful to them, I'll make a few more.

I used to have a laser pointer when I was a kid, but threw it our at one point. Can you tell me where I can buy just a focus lens?

These lenses are better quality than cheap laser pointer lenses. These are made for a blu-ray player.

AixiZ Blue Laser Glass Lens for 405-455nm


I bought a package of 10 without the dark colored carrier from eBay from the seller "foreversafe". They cost $3.99 for 10. I ordered them 4/23 and they got here 5/4. Here is the title of the search: new 10 pcs laser diode focus lens/collimating lens diameter 7mm acrylic.

Hi Christian. I build this microscope using the lens from an old DVD writer. You can find these lenses in any sort of dvd, cd, blue ray etc.. players. The lens is used to change the focal point of the laser. I would rather suggest using such a laser becaue it is alot bigger so you can get better clearer pictures.

Thanks. I have an old portable cd player which I will now make good use of :) I was keeping it for memories, but this is a much better idea.

BenR111 month ago

There is an easy way to calculate a rough magnification is this:

1) Get two rulers with millimeter markings.

2) Zoom in on the millimeter scale on one ruler using the scope.

3) Use the other ruler to measure the apparent length of one millimeter on the screen (in mm). This number is your approximate magnification.

PaulY52 months ago
elliotnash2 months ago

Wow, simply brilliant. I used to have an old laser when I was a kid, but I'm not sure whether I'd be able to find it. Is there some kind of substitute in this case?

BenR11 made it!2 months ago

I tried around six types of lenses. I didn't get good results with the cheap laser pointer lenses. The best results I got were with this lens:

AixiZ Blue Laser Glass Lens for 405-455nm


AlexM345 months ago

Do you know any teachers who have made use of this in classrooms? If so I would love to feature them in an article I'm writing now about accessible innovation - alexannem [at] gmail [dot] com

I've been meaning to post a 'made it' of this project,. I've been working as a part time science lab instructor at my old high school, and I mostly use instructables or other online ideas for fun, (inexpensive) hands-on labs.

eamoore AlexM344 months ago

I built one to use in my classroom. We are a bring your own device school so this worked in perfectly. I just finished writing a grant proposal to be able to purchase large quantities of the materials so I can build one for each student group in the grade level. (roughly funding to build 20 of these units). The nice part of this is that I am not concerned about letting students sign out units at night for additional learning outside of the classroom. The one I am building now will also accommodate a tablet comfortably. Even though we have microscopes.....as a STEAM school, it is nice to bring the engineering design process and creativity into use for the students. They love it.

I'm a teacher and just built my first one! Not sure if we'll get around to using it this year, but we're rolling out a BYOD program in the next week or two.

brad_bradshaw3 months ago

Hey all, here's some updated resources for the design!

Laser diode focusing lens: http://www.amazon.com/Collimating-lens-Focusing-La...

Keychain LED flashlight: http://www.amazon.com/Etekcity%C2%AE-Multicolor-Su...

Useful LED filters: http://www.amazon.com/AmScope-FT-BGY32-Yellow-Filt...

Black vinyl sheet (recommended to cover plywood base for better darkfield imaging): http://www.amazon.com/Expressions-Vinyl-adhesive-o...

Jbozz3 months ago

So I made most of it except when I used the lense from a dollar store laser pointer, my specimen has to be right up against the screen a couple of millimeters away to get a focus. Is there different laser pointers I can use that will let me focus up on specimens farther away?

dibbkd3 months ago

FYI the link you have to the lights actually links to the lenses. Yes I was able to copy/paste the Amazon link but thought you might want to correct it for others.

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