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, 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
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
LED click light (necessary only for viewing backlit specimens)
Step 2: Getting the lens from a laser pointer
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...
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
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.
Step 5: Embedding the lens
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.
Step 6: Drilling the hole for the light source
Step 7: Assembly
Step 8: Explore!
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