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!

iPhone Microscopy and Other Adventures

CMOS imaging chips have been steadily improving, their cost and performance being driven by the highly competitive smartphone industry. As CMOS sensors get better and cheaper, they get more interesting for hacker lab projects. In this post I’m going to demonstrate a few applications of the high-resolution sensor that you’ve already got in your pocket — or wherever you store your cell phone.


First lets quickly review image sensors. You’ve probably head of CMOS and CCD sensors, but what’s the difference exactly?

CCD and CMOS imaging sensors: from this excellent page at CERN.

As the figure above shows, CCD and CMOS sensors are both basically photodiode arrays. Photons that hit regions on the chip are converted into a charge by a photodiode. The difference is in how this charge in shoved around. CCD sensors are analogue devices, the charge is shifted through the chip and out to a single amplifier. CMOS sensors have amplifiers embedded in each cell and also generally include on-chip analogue to digital conversion allowing complete “camera-on-a-chip” solutions.

Because CMOS sensors amplify and move the signal into the digital domain sooner, they can use cheaper manufacturing processes allowing lower-cost imaging chips to be developed. Traditionally they’ve also had a number of disadvantages however, because more circuitry is included in each cell, less space is left to collect light. And because multiple amplifiers are used, it’s harder to get consistent images due to slight fabrication differences between the amplifiers in each cell. Until recently CMOS sensors were considered a low-end option. While CCD sensors (and usually large cooled CCD sensors) are still often preferred for scientific applications with big budgets, CMOS sensors have now however gained in-roads in high performance DSLRs.

Continue reading “iPhone Microscopy and Other Adventures”

Finding And Repairing Microscopes From The Trash

scope We’re not quite sure where [Andy] hangs out, but he recently found a pile of broken microscopes in a dumpster. They’re old and obsolete microscopes made for biological specimens and not inspecting surface mount devices and electronic components, but the quality of the optics is outstanding and hey, free microscope.

There was a problem with these old scopes – the bulb used to illuminate specimens was made out of pure unobtainium, meaning [Andy] would have to rig up his own fix. The easiest way to do that? Some LEDs made for car headlights, of course.

The maker of these scopes did produce a few for export to be used in rural areas all across the globe. These models had a 12 Volt input to allow the use of a car battery to light the bulb. A LED headlight also runs off 12 Volts, so it was easy for [Andy] to choose a light source for this repair.

A little bit of dremeling later, and [Andy] had the new bulb in place. An off the shelf PWM controller can vary the brightness of the LED, controlled with the original Bakelite knob. The completed scope can easily inspect human hairs, the dust mites, blood cells, and just about anything down to the limits of optical microscopy. Future plans for this microscope might include another project on hackaday.io, a stage automator that will allow the imaging of huge fields at very high magnification – not bad for something pulled out of the trash.