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

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

Step 2: Getting the lens from a laser pointer

The focus lens of just about any laser pointer will act as the macro lens on the microscope stand.  Don't waste money on an expensive model; the lens from the $2 laser is fine.  EDIT: To achieve higher magnification (up to 375x), use a second lens!  

To get the lens from the laser pointer start by unscrewing the front cone and the back cover of the tube.  Remove the batteries.  Using the eraser end of a pencil, push the innards out of the front of the tube.  The front of this assembly (the side without the spring to contact the batteries) is where the focus lens sits.  Unscrew the small black piece of plastic in front of the lens and the lens will come free.

Step 3: A few notes on the lens...

The lens, when viewed from the side is not symmetrical. You’ll see a thin translucent strip (~1mm) on one side of the lens.  That side must not be adjacent to the camera.  You can determine the correct orientation by sticking the lens between the prongs of a hairpin and taping the rig to the back of a smartphone.  The correct orientation will provide you with a larger field of view.

As it is, you can take reasonably good macro photos with this lens and smartphone. This simple rig is limited; not to mention, it’s extremely hard to keep the phone steady when taking zoomed in photos. That’s why we need to build a stand!

Step 4: Drilling the bolt holes

Make a mark with a Sharpie on the front two corners of the plywood base ¾” from both the sides and the front edges.
Put a sacrificial piece of wood beneath the plywood base before drilling.  You don’t want to damage surface of the bench! Stack the plexiglass camera stage (7” x 7” piece) on top of the base.  Then stack the specimen stage (3” x 7”) on top of the camera stage with ¾” of the stage extending off the front of the base. 
Drill through the entire assembly.   The bolts that stick up through the base must be countersunk in order for the stand to sit flat.  Flip the base over and counter sink the holes with a spade bit.

EDIT: A few tips on NOT cracking the plexiglass when drilling…First, go slow.  Let the drill do the work and DO NOT press down hard on the drill.  Use a sharp bit and press gently on the drill.  You can also put a piece of tape over the area that you wish to drill through.  It will reduce the chance of cracking the plexi.

Step 5: Embedding the lens

Find a drill bit that is the same size as or smaller than the diameter of the lens. Remember, you can always take more plexi away; adding extra plexiglass after drilling is not an option.

¾” from the front of the camera stage (in line with the bolt holes) drill a hole for the lens. 

If the lens doesn’t quite fit, file or use sandpaper to enlarge the hole.  Be sure to do this slowly and test the fit often.  It is easy to overshoot and make the hole too large! 

When using the stand, it is important to have the lens as close as possible to the camera.  If you don’t plan on having your phone in a case when you use the stand, make the lens flush with the stage.  Otherwise, leave the top of the lens slightly exposed (as is done in the image) so that the lens will rest closer to the camera.

EDIT: If you are using TWO lenses, stack them on top of another.  Insert one lens from below the plexiglass and the second from above.  

Step 6: Drilling the hole for the light source

It is important that a hole for your light source is directly below the focus lens.  The best way to mark the placement of the light is to slide the camera stage (without the lens) down to the base, mark with a pencil where the hole is to be drilled, and drill a shallow hole to rest the light in.

Step 7: Assembly

We are ready to assemble!  Start with washers and nuts to hold the bolts tight to the base.  Then add some upside down wing nuts and then washers to the two front bolts.  Place the specimen stage on top of the washers and add a nut to each bolt. Lower them about 1/2” and rest the camera stage on top of these nuts.  A level is handy here to make sure that the stage is actually flat.  If you don’t own a level there are plenty of free level apps for a phone!  When the stage is level both front to back and left to right, tighten down the final nuts.

Step 8: Explore!

Go take some pictures! Or video! With $10 worth of materials and a smartphone, you just made a digital microscope!

Plant cells tend to work best for this particular model, but feel free to experiment. That’s what this is all about, giving you the freedom to explore.

I am a major proponent of making home science more accessible.  My goal in designing and building this phone to microscope conversion stand is to provide an alternative to overly expensive microscopes. This set up is a viable option for underfunded science classrooms that would not otherwise be able to perform experiments requiring a microscope.  But more than that, this device will allow people to rediscover the world around them.

Please contact me if you have any questions or suggestions regarding this project!

Special thanks to:

The folks at Grin City Collective for all their creative guidance and support.

Luke Saunders for videography

Step 9: Troubleshooting!


As you have questions I will do my best to address them in this section!

Lens won't focus!
I have heard a lot of folks responding and saying that they are having trouble getting the lens to focus on the object.
This is most likely because the object is not close enough to the lens.  If you still can't focus on the image and the nuts under the camera stage stop the specimen stage from being raised higher use a scrap piece of plexi as a slide.  This will raise the object into focus.  

Cracked plexiglass!
I touched on this briefly earlier in the instructable.  The big thing here is GO SLOW.  Let the weight of the drill do the work and DON'T PRESS HARD.  Use as sharp a bit as possible.  Taping over the area you need to drill also reduces the chance of cracking.

I don't have the tools to make the cuts!
Not to worry!  Most hardware stores have a shop and will charge a small fee for cutting the wood and the plexiglass down to size.  

Help!  I can only buy plexiglass in huge sheets!
Many hardware stores will have scraps.  I purchased a large piece of scrap to make 8 microscopes for a fraction of the price of a full sheet.

Aaaaaaah! I can't find the same LED light!
Pretty much any LED light will work.  Ideally it can stand up straight with the light pointing vertically.  If your light is tall, it might raise the minimum height that your specimen stage can be.  This of course can easily be fixed by using longer bolts.  
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?
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.
<p>You don't need a calibrated digital microscope if you know the object size. Just measure a known size object on the display (that you claim the magnification for). For example, if a 1mm ruler mark is 100mm, measured on the screen, you have a magnification of 100. You can also use common objects, such as human hair, which is about 0.002 inch diameter as your &quot;calibration object&quot;.</p>
The LED light that is used in this instructable: <br> <br>Diamond Visions Inc 08-0775 Crazy Colored Stubby Keychain Led Flashlight
<p>I understand that you can use others as well?</p>
<p>Did anyone built the microscope using 2 lenses? How's the result? Can anybody tell me how should I place the 2 lenses?</p>
<p>I made this microscope. I found the project to be a bit difficult, despite its seeming ease. And I definitely spent more than $10. I used the Aixiz lenses. All the holes are drilled with a 3/8&quot; bit. I enlarged the lense hole a bit with a round file and pushed in the lense. I still need to work on this more. I thought I would use springs between the specimen stage and the upper level (cell phone platform), as described here http://makezine.com/projects/smartphone-microscope/. But then I had too much space between the two levels. This is a great, fun, and educational project. I plan to work on it more. Maybe I'll do a full write-up of this project. I like the all plexi-glass version, with the center knob. And I like the version where the maker just put their own LEDs at the bottom, not an LED flashlight.</p>
<p>this is awesome. I can't wait to try it out with my kid. thanks!</p>
<p>with my CNC router I just fabricated 72 kits which a friend gave away to children at the Portland makers faire. [ignor extra holes in base of prototype]</p>
<p>Love this.</p>
<p>Kudos to you and your friend! 72 inspired minds (likely more, because they'll share with their friends) Awesomeness!</p>
<p>Oh wow that&acute;s actually quite amazing. Keep up the great work.</p>
<p>What about using two lenses, how should I arrange them? Or the distance between?</p>
<p>thank you</p>
<p>Hello from Spain...<br> I love this, it is very clever.<br> I'll do it with a friend, and I'll tell you how it goes ...<br><br> Thank you very much for sharing</p>
<p>How I can convert it to phase contrast ??. I want to count cells using haemocytometer. </p>
<p>THE BEST!</p>
Hi Yo. Ingenius and Innovative setup you made there.<br><br>I am a Nigerian who studied Microbiology. Students in Nigeria find it difficult assessing a microscope because its very expensive and most schools dont even have a working one.<br><br>So as soon as i saw this setup, i couldnt help but wonder how helpful this cheap setup can be to students and how many thousands of dollars (millions in nigerian naira) one can make by harnessing, perfecting and commercializing this setup.<br><br>I am doubly sure that this setup can be improved enough to be able to view bacterial cells.<br><br>I am yet to practically construct this set up coz am still gathering the materials, but from the contributions so far, i havs some questions to ask<br><br>what is the magnification of the laser light lens?<br>a light compound microscope uses 2 kinda lenses - the objective lens (with a maximum mag of 100*) and ocular lens (with a maximum mag of 10*). this lenses are inclined at an angle to give us a total mag of 1000* whatever we are viewing (this mag can be used to view bacteria). So are the lenses in your setup inclined at an angle or simply stacked atop each other to get a more magnified view?<br>Lenses are made of tiny reflecting units, so is it possible to cut a big 100* lens into the size of the laser focus light lens so it can fit into the small drilled hole in your set up.<br><br>Pardon my long comment. I am seriously considering the prospects of perfecting and commercializing this setup to help students and also make some gains. thank you
<p>with nokia asha 210 and a laser pointer lens, i made microscope phone with only 5 minutes!! </p><p>Back cover of the phone has lens hole. I removed the plastic from inside and make the hole a little bigger with knife. After that i inserted the lens. And ready to make about 100x mag anywhere.</p>
<p>Which lenses exactly make the best microscope then? Would a dollar store laser lens be equivocal to what you find in say a petsmart laser pointer? Also getting a linking problem on the page, it takes you to some acrylic lenses on both links. I got one to work! Very fun, I think I need to make the stage less wobbly and it was hard to drill through the plexiglass, since it is so polished and the bit just won't start so it cracked where I put in my microscope lens. A little rubber cement will hold the lens if it drops through! </p>
<p>I just bought a dollar store laser pointer/Led flashlight &amp; let me tell you it's complete waste of a dollar. There was no way to take out the lense. </p>
I did manage to remove the lense from the brass casing. Part of it needs to be twisted free or carefully use a drill bit by hand to extract the lense from the surrounding container. Needle nose pliers help, you may need to bread away the brittle container edges.
And yeah is it important to use glass on the top?
And yeah is it important to use glass on the top?
Hi first of allits amazing got my attraction and the best incredible second can i use a normal glass instead of plexiglass plz reply fast, thanks in advance
Sorry for the wrong spellings and some words
<p>Looks awesome, I will try it as soon as I have free time.</p>
<p>Does this make traditional light microscopes redundant given their weight and lack of photography ability usually?</p>
<p>I made two modifications. I made it a &quot;4-poster&quot; and expanded the depth to 10&quot; to accommodate an iPad mini. I also glued together two pieces of Plexiglas (one 1/8&quot; and one 3/8&quot;) to create a thicker top. This allowed me to easily insert two lenses.</p>
Easy to follow instructions, made some modification with object &quot;shelf&quot;, I had to secure it with a set of rubber band so it would not tilt away. Fine adjustment for lens is required, as it has a very tiny depth of field. Used a laser pointer lens.
<p>I made it with a few modifications...</p><p>I made it larger to accommodate tablets (my school has a 1-1 iPad program) 9' x 11&quot; with the lens centered allows an iPad to be set on the plate sort of crooked and used.</p><p>Options at the big orange store were lexan or acrylic sheet in .903&quot; or .22&quot;. Decided to try the thinner cheaper acrylic sheet (1/2 the cost). Works fine so far (and easier to cut). </p><p>Only cheap LED flashlights I could find were tall, so I used 5.5&quot; bolts. </p><p>Took a little experimentation to get the image in focus (slide stage has to be VERY close to camera). We'll see how it works for yeast cells on Monday! </p><p>(it is ugly, yes, but it was a quick job and I had help from a 3 year old!)</p>
<p>I did it! :) Made entirely of plexiglass except the bolt offcourse. I used one central wheel for focusing instead of two. I made pretty cool images with it. You can see spider's &quot;skeleton&quot; and mosquito's hairy leggs. Amazing idea, but I'm not sure about magnification because I used CD ROM lens, I doubt it has 375X but it's just fine. And I used LED strip instead of flashlight.</p>
<p>Do you think a CD ROM lens would work better?</p>
<p>Hi,</p><p>Why don't you make an instructable of this! I'm very interested in this version because of the one central focusing wheel.</p><p>Thanks in advance</p>
<p>Hi, <em> I don't have time to make instructable about this, I'm very busy. I can send you some pics and there you can see how it's made.</em></p>
<p>I really liked your design, so I made a mockup of it in TinkerCAD with appropriate dimensions and all.</p><p>To those interested in making it, you can pull it apart to see all of the pieces and holes that need to be made. <br><br><a href="https://www.tinkercad.com/things/5X5LnyAjOmo-acrylic-smartphone-microscope-stand" rel="nofollow">https://www.tinkercad.com/things/5X5LnyAjOmo-acryl...</a></p>
<p>I also added a toggle-able double lens functionality and all you need is a rubber grommet and a spare piece of acrylic.</p>
<p>Great job! Did you get greater magnification with double lens?</p>
<p>Super DIY !!! Did you use two lenses for this build?</p>
<p>TNX ...nope, just one lens.</p>
<p>What lazer pointer did he use?</p>
<p>Awesome idea, thanks I'm going to have to try this out.</p>
<p>I hope someone will see this - how do you stack the lenses ? Which side goes where.</p><p>I bought AiXiZ lenses from the link. Do i need to get them out of the casing and if so how do i do that ? Its super hard.</p>
<p>Update i have made the project and it has ~30x magnification NOT 375x With AiXiZ lens from ebay - so to notify the others DO NOT buy them if you want to make this project. I have stacked 2 lenses but somehow the magnification is not much greater than with just one. So yeah a vid with 300x mag would be nice. Since the pics where the home-made microscope is included are similar to mine (~30x magnification) meaning it either can't be done with plain laser lenses or if it can it cannot be done with aixiz.</p>
<p>Do you think this would work to take pictures of snowflakes? I'm thinking of building these with my Grade 10 science class</p>
<p>The text of your link to the lights is correct, but the underlying link is the same as the link to the lenses. </p>
<p>10$ only !? . </p><p>Wonderful subject<br>It deserves praise from everyone</p><p><a href="http://www.al3aby.com" rel="nofollow">العاب فلاش</a></p><p>العاب تلبيس</p><p>العاب دورا</p><p>لعبة من سيربح المليون</p><p>لعبة جاتا</p><p>لعبة زوما</p><p>لعبة المزرعة السعيدة</p><p>لعبة البيرة</p>
<p>Wonderful Instructable! I'm just curious; am I the only person who can't quite hear the video? Fortunately the CC are good. I'm sharing this with all of my young science wizards.</p>
<p>can it be used as a diagnosis tool</p>

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