Introduction: DIY Smartphone Paper Microscope With Simple Materials and Tools.

Looking at things up-close reveals a fascinating world that hides in plain sight. When magnified a few times, even the most common things look completely different. This DIY microscope allows us to do just that with commonly available materials that cost almost nothing.

A lot of people have made DIY microscopes and this one is just another update on those. However, the attempt here is to greatly simply the focusing mechanism and make it in the most low-tech way possible.

The focusing mechanism in this system works by raising and lowering the height of a triangle paper structure that in-turn moves the phone up and down to focus on the sample. The paper friction is enough to retain the position once good focus is achieved. It is simple, low-tech and easy to make with materials you can find lying around your home.

Some of the notable examples that this design is based off are;

1. Yoshinoks, $10 Smartphone to Digital Microscope Conversion!A neat design! But not everyone might be able to build it as it includes a few power tools.

2. Be_Learners, DIY Microscope Using Smartphone.An extremely simple method that works great because of its simplicity but lacks a focusing stage.

3. The DIY microscopy section on the Hackteria website.These guys play around with open source biological art, DIY biology and instruments. Their website has lots of interesting projects and reads.

Step 1: Things You Need


1. Laser pointer (1 or 2) - to extract lens(es)

2. Smartphone - This is what you will view things on

3. Empty cereal box or any similar card paper - To make the microscope stage

4. Clear plastic packaging (Blister packs) - To make slides

5. Thin elastic string 1m

6. Small flash light or another smartphone with flash.

Tools and other items:

1. Blue tack or any other putty like adhesive

2. Thin double-sided tape or white paper glue

3. Scissors

4. Precision knife or a box cutter

5. A ruler and a pencil

6. A screwdriver or other tools - to break open the laser pointer

7. A 3D pirinter (Optional)

8. A printer and A4 paper to print the template

Step 2: Extracting and Prepping the Lens

Probably the most important element of any optic device, these can be easily obtained from cheap laser pointers.

Cheap laser pointers can be found online here or in local shops. The cheapest kind work well and there is no need to buy a high end laser pointer.

You can stack one lens over the other for higher magnification. More than two lenses don’t work as the focal distance reduces greatly.

1. Extracting lenses:

- Remove the top cover of the laser pointer.

- This should reveal a black housing which can be unscrewed or cut open.

- Carefully remove the lens from inside and try to not scratch it in the process.

2. Attaching the lens to the phone:

There are multiple ways to do this. It is important to note that the lens needs to be used in the right direction.

Note that the lens has a slightly rounded bulging part on one side. This side points outwards from the phone camera.

a. Blue tack or reusable putty adhesive:

- Roll up a noodle of blue tack and put it around the edge of the lens.

- Now line up the lens with your phone rear camera (making sure the bulging side faces outwards) and press the tack onto the sides to stick the lens to your phone.

The phone can now be used as a simple microscope with its internal camera application. However, focusing and maintaining a clear image is difficult so we need to build a stage to make focusing easier.

(Note: the focal length is quite short that means, the lens needs to be very close to the sample.)

b. 3D print a lens mount:

- Download the 3D printing file, print the pieces in the finest layer setting and push the lens into it making sure that the bulging side of the lens is on the side of the mount that has a ridge. (The one with a taller ridge is for a double lens set-up and the other one for a single lens)

- You can use either the single lens mount or the double lens mount. In the latter case make sure both lenses have their bulging side pointing outward.

- Now thread a short length (about 8 - 10 cm) of thin elastic cord through the side holes and make knots on the ends to secure it into the mount.

- The elastic makes it easier to fit the lens mount onto various sized phones.

Step 3: The Microscope Stage

This unit makes focusing and viewing the image easier.

Getting the various pieces ready:
- Open up a cereal box to flatten it out and reveal the blank insides.

- Print the template file on an A4 paper (select real size while printing).

- Stick the printed template onto your cereal box.

- Cut the cutting lines as marked.

- Fold over the dotted lines.

Putting together:

I find using thin double sided tape an easy option for this step but you may use regular white glue however, remember to wait for it to dry between steps.

- Start by sticking the piece labelled 1 to the base as shown. Make sure it lines up well with the space provided.

- Now stick the top part of the piece 2 to the base. Again making sure things line up.

- Insert the long focusing tab through the slits as indicated.

- Stick the end of the focusing tab too the free end of piece 2. Line it up well.

Pushing and pulling in the tab should raise or lower the triangle section formed by piece 2. This will move the phone and help focus on on the slide.

Step 4: Making Slides

You may use glass slides if you have access to them but, clear plastic from packaging works well for home purposes.

- Collect your sample.

- Cut a small rectangle from the clear plastic.

- If it is a dry sample, clear tape works well as a cover slip for your slide.

- If the sample is liquid cut another small piece of clear plastic and use it as a cover slip.

Step 5: Using the Microscope

- Mount the lens onto your phones rear camera. Making sure to align it well.

- Place the stage on a slightly raised surface on a flat table. You can use a book for this purpose. Make sure the front square cutout sticks out from the edge of the book as you need to shine light under it.

- Place your slide with the sample in the middle of the cutout.

- Place a light source under the cutout as shown.

- Place the phone over the two triangles on the stage as shown. Make sure the phone camera with the lens mounted aligns with the sample.

- Now move the focusing tab to focus onto your sample.

- Take pictures or videos with your phones inbuilt camera application.

Share your observations with everyone! Try improving the design and share your building experience to help others!

If you have any suggestions for improvement, please share them here! Thank you and happy building!

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