An IBM scientist has taken it upon himself to build a low-cost microscope after being disappointed with image quality results using his lab’s commercial device. The DIY microscope, which just about anyone can recreate at home, costs just $300 and is made of LEGO bricks, a Raspberry Pi computer, an 8MP Raspberry Pi camera and some 3D printed components.
The impressive build, designed by Yuksek Temiz, costs a fraction of the price of commercial microscopes but has an impressive capability: with 10-micrometer resolution, the microscope is comparable to systems on the market today. The microscope can capture high-resolution images of computer chips and other small objects.
Though the LEGO-style microscope was invented a couple of years ago—and has successfully been used by Temiz and his colleagues at IBM Research—the instructions and design files for the project are now open source. In fact, at IBM Research’s facility in Switzerland, Temiz and his team have used the images captured using his microscope for a number of research publications.
By following a video guide and a LEGO-inspired instruction manual, makers can try to recreate the low-cost microscope at home. Temiz also hopes that students could eventually build them in class or that they could be deployed in developing regions, where commercial microscopes may be prohibitively expensive.
“Many kids love LEGO, and with this task, they can also learn some Raspberry Pi programming and simple image processing, and they can magnify daily objects or scientific samples as they would do with a regular science class microscope,” Temiz said. “And it would be great if it could also be used in the developing world and for home schooling because it’s so much cheaper than off-the-shelf microscopes with similar capabilities.”
Don’t happen to have spare LEGO pieces lying around? That’s not a problem, because the IBM scientist has included 3D printable design files for all of the components (they can also be milled). However, Temiz recommends using LEGO bricks because they are cheaper, for one, and can easily be modified to create new microscope configurations. The full instructions for the LEGO microscope can be found on GitHub.