Hacklet 110 – Optical Microscopy Projects

Humans have always wanted to make small things bigger. To see that which is unseen with the naked eye. The inventor of the original microscope happened sometime in the 1600’s, though the inventor is still contested. Some say it was Cornelis Drebbel, while others say Hans Lippershey. Galileo Galilei’s compound microscope is probably the most well-known ancient magnifier. Regardless of who created the device, hackers, makers, engineers, and scientists have used microscopes to study mysteries of biology, geology, electronics, and just about anything else you can imagine.

This is a fitting topic for this week’s Hacklet at is aligns well with the Citizen Scientist challenge round of the Hackaday Prize which began on Monday. Making quality microscopes more widely available is one of many great starting ideas for an entry. Let’s take a look at some of the best microscopy projects on Hackaday.io!

scope1We start with [J. Kha] and Armed Microscope. [J. Kha] was one of the backers of the original uArm over at Kickstarter. He also does quite a bit of work with electronics. After fighting with a cheap USB microscope, he realized he had the perfect platform to control it. Microscopes usually are stationary, with the object being viewed moved on a stage. [J. Kha] turned things upside down by mounting the microscope on his uArm. An Arduino Yun controls the system. The Yun also allows him to stream the microscope’s video over the internet using the mjpg-streamer library. [J. Kha] did have some power issues at first, but he’s got his regulators all sorted out now.

scope2Next we have [andyhull] with Adding a light touch to a “classic” microscope. A lucky dumpster find netted [Andy] a pile of old broken microscopes. From this he was able to build a working classic stereo scope. This was a Gillet & Sibert stereo compound scope. Like most microscopes of its time, the old GS used standard incandescent or halogen lights for illumination. The old bulbs were long gone, and would have been a pain to replace. [Andy] switched his scope over to LED illumination. He ended up using a commercially available LED “bulb” designed to replace type 1157 automotive tail light bulbs. This type of LED is designed to run on 12 volt power which simplifies the wiring. The small LED flashlight in a custom mount also provides a bit of help for opaque subjects.

scope3Next up is [Andre Maia Chagas] with Flypi – cheap microscope/experimental setup. Flypi is [Andre’s] entry in the 2106 Hackaday Prize. Flypi is more than just a microscope, it’s a 3D printed data collection and image analysis device for hackers and scientists alike. A Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 controls the show. Images come in through Pi Camera with an M12 lens. The Pi runs some open source Python code allowing it to acquire and analyze images. It also has an Arduino as a co-processor to handle anything a particular experiment may need – like RGB LEDs, heaters, manipulators, you name it. Andre sees Flypi as having uses in everything from fluorescence imaging to optogenetics and thermogenetics.

scope5Finally we have [Jarred Heinrich] with Stagmo: Microscope Stage Automator. Positioning samples under high magnification requires a steady hand. Trying to image them makes things even harder. To help with this, microscopes have stages. Fine lead screws manually controlled by knobs allow the user to precisely position any subject. Automated stages are available as well, but they can get quite expensive. [Jarred] recognized that the microscope stage is an X-Y platform like any CNC, laser, or 3D printer. He used an Arduino and a motor shield to control a couple of stepper motors. The motors are coupled to the stage knobs with rubber belts. While the mounting system looks a little wobbly, but it got the job done, and didn’t require any modifications to the microscope itself.

Optical microscopes are just one type of scope you’ll find on Hackaday.io. There are also atomic force microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, and more! I’ll cover those on a future Hacklet. If you want to see more awesome optical microscopy projects, check out our new optical microscope projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Nikon Resurrection: Repairing a Broken Lens

Modern DSLR cameras are amazing devices. Mechanics, electronics, and optics, all rolled up in a single package. All that technology is great, but it can make for a frustrating experience when attempting any sort of repair. Lenses can be especially difficult to work on. One misalignment of a lens group or element can lead to a fuzzy image.

[Kratz] knew all this, but it didn’t stop him from looking for a cheap lens deal over on eBay. He found a broken Nikon DSLR 55-200mm 1:4-5.6 AF-S VR camera lens for $30. This particular lens is relatively cheap – you can pick up a new one for around $150 online. Spending $30 to save $120 is a bit of a gamble, but [Kratz] went for it.

The lens he bought mostly worked – the auto-focus and vibration reduction system seemed to be fine. The aperture blades however, were stuck closed. Aperture blades form the iris of a lens. With the blades closed down, the lens was severely limited to brightly lit situations. All was not lost though, as the aperture is a relatively simple mechanical system, which hopefully would be easy to repair.

pinNikonKeeping screws and various parts in order is key when taking apart a lens. [Kratz] used a tip he learned right here on Hackaday: He drew a diagram of the screw positions on a thick piece of paper. He then stuck each screw right into the paper in its proper position.

Carefully removing each part, [Kratz] found a pin had slipped out of the rod that connects the lens’ internal parts with the external aperture control arm. Fixing the pin was simple. Getting the lens back together was quite a bit harder. Several parts have to be aligned blindly. [Kratz] persevered and eventually everything slipped into alignment. The finished lens works fine, albeit for a slightly noisy auto-focus.

It’s worth noting that there are service and repair manuals for many cameras and lenses out there in the dark corners of the internet, including [Kratz]’s 55-200 lens. Reading the repair procedures Nikon techs use shows just how many tools, fixtures, and custom bits of software go into making one of these lenses work.

Hackaday Reader [David] Wins a Camera from Make and Nikon


Make the shot fixed[David Schwarz] whipped up this moving time-lapse camera rig and won himself a sweet Nikon setup. You might remember our post about the Nikon Make:The Shot Challenge. [David] saw our post, and started thinking about what he wanted to enter. Like a true engineer, he finally came up with his idea with just 3 days left in the contest.

[David] wanted to build a moving time-lapse rig, but he didn’t have the aluminum extrusion rails typically used to build one. He did have some strong rope though, as well as a beefy DC motor with a built-in encoder. [David] mounted a very wide gear on the shaft of the motor, then looped the rope around the gear and two idler pulleys to ensure the gear would have a good bite on the rope. The motor is controlled by an Arduino, which also monitors the encoder to make sure the carriage doesn’t move too far between shots.

[6__pulley_systemDavid] built and tested his rig over a weekend. On Monday morning, he gave the rig its first run. The video came out pretty good, but he knew he could get a better shot. That’s when Murphy struck. The motor and controller on his rig decided to give up the ghost. With the contest deadline less than 24 hours away, [David] burned the midnight oil and replaced his motor and controller.

Tuesday morning, [David] pulled out his trump card – a trip to Tally Lake in Montana, USA. The equipment worked perfectly, and nature was cooperating too. The trees, lake, and the shadows on the mountains in the background made for an incredible shot. Once the time-lapse photos were in the can, [David] rushed home, stitched and stabilized the resulting video. He submitted his winning entry with just 2 hours to spare.

Click past the break for more on [David’s] time-lapse rig, and to see his final video.

Continue reading “Hackaday Reader [David] Wins a Camera from Make and Nikon”

Hack a Camera, Win a Nikon


Several juicy prizes from Nikon are ripe for the plucking. Our friends at MAKE are hosting a Nikon sponsored challenge. Grand prize is an Nikon 1 V3 with three extra lenses, and there are two runner-up prizes which offer the same without the extras. They’re basically asking for your best camera hack. Now the submission process is a one-shot deal (no posting and iterating) which may explain why the contest — which started 4/15 and ends 5/13 — only has two entries. Still, we’d love to see a Hackaday reader waltz in and claim the loot.

Need some examples to get you rolling? Connectivity is a fun topic; try interfacing your camera with something like a Nintendo DS. Everyone needs to make at least one motion rig like this Ikea slider. We can’t stop listing examples without at least one shutter trigger. Here’s a sound activated one to capture things that happen extremely quickly.

If you end up winning make sure to tell us so we can share in your delight.

Self-contained time-lapse rig braves elements from thirty feet

Perspective is a bit hard to grasp in this image, but all of this hardware is mounted thirty feet above the ground. This time-lapse photography box makes use of the sun and a Raspberry Pi to document the goings on. The rig is one of three that were built by [Patty Chuck] to record progress on a seventy acre construction site over the course of eighteen months. The gallery linked above shows off the project well, but a much more in-depth text description is found in his Reddit thread.

What’s not shown in the image is a solar array which powers the box. When they were installed there were no utilities on site. To guard against power-loss there’s a hardware RTC that keeps ticking. The Raspberry Pi uses GPIO pins to switch the Nikon D7100 camera on once every five minutes during the work day. It snaps a photo before powering it down again. It also monitors a temperature sensor and actuates circulation fans if necessary.

He’s planning to post the videos once the project’s done in 18 months. If you see them and remember this post, send us the link and we’ll post the update.

Nikon WU-1a WiFi dongle hacking

Here’s a pretty tricky piece of consumer electronics reverse engineering. [Joe Fitz] came across the Nikon WU-1a. It’s a dongle that plugs into a Nikon D3200 camera, producing a WiFi connection which can be picked up and controlled from a smart phone. The app shows you the current image from the viewfinder, allows you to snap the picture, then pulls down the picture afterwards. The problem is that the same functionality for his D800 camera will cost him $1200, when this dongle can be had for $60. That’s a powerful incentive to find a way to use the WU-1a with his camera model. This is more than just rerouting some wires. It involves sniffing the USB traffic and drilling down in the datasheets for the chips used in the hardware. We’re not certain, but he may have even rolled new firmware for the dongle.

Details are a bit scarce right now. Your best bet is to watch the video embedded after the break. There is also a set of slides which [Joe] put together for a talk at this weekend’s BsidesPDX. It will give you a general overview of the process he went through. But he also started a forum thread and we hope to learn much more from that as the conversation gets going.

Continue reading “Nikon WU-1a WiFi dongle hacking”

TV-B-Gone can double as a camera remote control

[Christopher] found a way to get a bit more mileage out of his TV-B-Gone kit. The little device is intended to turn off every television in range with the push of a button. But at its core it’s really just a microcontroller connected to some infrared LEDs. Instead of sending codes to shut of televisions, you can rewrite the firmware to send a camera remote shutter release code.

It doesn’t take too much to pull this off. You need a way to flash new firmware to the device, and you need to know the new code timing that you want to send. Since the firmware is open source it’s easy enough to make code changes, and there are several easy methods of flashing AVR devices (like the tiny85 used here), including using an Arduino as an ISP.

But [Christopher] did more than just add the Nikon code for his camera. He realized that there’s a jumper to select between European or American television codes. Since he wasn’t using the foreign option, he replace that pin header with a switch that selects between normal TV-B-Gone operation and camera shutter release modes. Nice.