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, a stage automator that will allow the imaging of huge fields at very high magnification – not bad for something pulled out of the trash.

24 thoughts on “Finding And Repairing Microscopes From The Trash

  1. The dumpsters around a university can be filled with treasure. Look for the science, engineering, or property redistribution areas. Be aware that the equipment has “Property of xxx University” tags and the police aren’t always sympathetic with your passion for recycling.

        1. I was taking a welding class at a local community college where one of the janitors tried to steal a milling machine by hiding it in a large dumpster used for scrap metal. He was found out, but the administration decided to just throw the milling machine away as it was too dangerous to lift it from the dumpster. So you never know what you’ll find.

    1. Indeed, taking other peoples trash may find you prosecuted for theft, depending on the laws of your jurisdiction, not a high risk of prosecution (unless you are doing it habitually, breaking and entering to do it, or creating a mess), but none the less, be aware. As with most things hack related, you do this entirely at your own risk.

      1. Some communities have ordinances that specifically forbid individuals from participating in the act of scavenging. I’m not sure what sorts of punishments are associated with that heinous crime, but I imagine they’re pretty severe. I suppose it is thinking like this that is accelerating our species towards extinction.

        I can’t make stuff like this up! The same people that pass such asinine laws likely do not think that their defecation emits an odor either. They’re definitely a large part of the problem.

        1. To be fair, some of those places have agreements with the trash collection companies that give those companies the right to recover those goods and make money off of them, if possible. Those companies manage a reuse/recycle operation that offsets the cost of trash disposal. That in turn reduces your taxes. So there is a valid theft angle to the whole affair.

          Frustrating for old scroungers that remember furnishing an entire university-era shared house with found stuff. I used to say that I could _build_ and furnish a house with the stuff I found on trash days – wood, shingles, doors, windows, furniture, you name it. It would only take time.

    2. in Poland we have public-owned universities – which is cool (“free” high education!), but also means we can’t just throw stuff out – everything has to be formal and done by external firm, so you won’t find in our trash cans anything fun to play with…

      And because of these formal regulations it is much easier to throw away 5year old LCD monitor than give it away (which would be cheaper for university).

  2. i’m hust hoping he cleaned the microscopes and himself with some anti bacteriolical zoap before going any firther
    he was basicly rumaging around a biohazzard and stands a chance of getting actually sick of it
    immagine they used the microscope to study the ebola vius

    1. I suspect first year students don’t get much access to the Ebola virus, but you make a fair point, *anything* left in a dumpster is a potential bio-hazard, not least because mice and rats tend to piss in dumpsters (Google Weil’s disease aka Leptospirosis), so yes, it got a pretty good going over with disinfectant before it made it to my workbench,

      pcf11 also makes a valid point, for most businesses and educational institutes, flogging it on ebay or offering it to staff or students generally isn’t worth the risk and effort. Its a sad reflection of our society that it makes more sense to trash obsolete equipment, rather than re-purpose it.

      1. .. however, if someone wants to try to figure a way to make it worth while for companies to “give it to a hacker” for free (in other words, cheaper and easier than skipping it), I’m listening… generally though, its simpler to stick it all in a skip and pay someone to remove it. There are companies that specialise in the removal of this kind of waste, most of which is simply torn down for its scrap metal value.

        1. Some places that are “not for Profit” have to dispose of items in a way that no one particular person can “profit” from it. So things have to be auctioned off or disposed of. Although if I remember right it can be donated to another “Not for profit” so if your hacker space is a NFP, you might can gain some quality stuff.

      2. I know the University of Colorado system has an excess/auction path for getting rid of old equipment. I doubt you’d find something like that microscope in the garbage here. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is actually more common in the US than throwing in the dumpster.

        1. Now that is a good idea… is this auction path available to the public, or restricted to University staff and students? Either way, it seems like a good move to offer equipment a new home first, then trash it only once it has been established that nobody can make further use of it.

          Nothing gets away from the fact that the vast majority of the equipment we use will eventually find its way in to the trash, but the longer its life cycle, the less often we have to use valuable resources replacing it.

          1. It is open to the public — and for hackers, it is a fantastic event. I’ve been to a couple and bought fun things like vacuum pumps and high voltage power supplies. The only part that makes me sad is that the majority of the stuff gets bought be ebay sellers who usually have little idea what they’re buying and stash it in a garage until they get top dollar for it.

    2. I may have picked up an interesting biohazard.. but on the plus side.. I can now culture the killer bacteria and watch them wriggle and squirm on a glass plate, shortly before they do me in.. actually if there was anything particularly hazardous, it would most likely have finished me off by now, this project was completed a while back..

  3. I picked up a nice old stereo microscope on a somewhat foolish impulse surplus buy.

    The focusing track is gummed up and won’t move. I imagine there is dried grease in there? Any tips appreciated. I packed it up and put it into storage, for a day when I would have the time (and info and parts) to properly deal with it.

    1. It may be gummed up (most likely) or the thread may have been damaged by rough handling. These things are pretty simple to strip down, lots of precision, over engineered screws, but solidly made and very simple mechanically.

      Just don’t get grease in the optics, its a nightmare to clean off again, so dont go wildly spraying it with WD40.

      Remove the eyepiece(s), condenser if it has one, any mirros and the objective(s) before you start to avoid grubby prints and graphite grease getting anywhere it shouldn’t.

      Tape over any holes that lead to the optical path with a bit of lint free tape (electrical tape, so long as it doesn’t leave any stick residue is perfect), and dive in with your best screwdrivers and hex keys..

      Like anything else, take pictures as you strip it down if things start to look complex. That way you can easily reverse the process. You should have it back in operation without too much effort.

      1. I have played with microscope racks and they seem to rely on the correct coefficient of grease gumminess to work correctly. Too little and the focus mechanism has a tendency to fall down due to the effects of gravity. Grease I’ve seen used seems to be of an amber color to me. It is very sticky stuff.

        Apparently doing a bit of research on the web damping grease is an item? I knew it was special stuff. Just any old regular axle grease won’t work. I think you’d be better off just dealing with it being too stiff. Because when that rack starts falling due to its own weight that is really annoying.

  4. Does anyone know if it’s possible to hack in a Barlow lens on this type of microscope? (To trade working distance at the expense of magnification.) I’ve seen some great deals at our local university surplus for stereo microscopes like this, but the working distance sucks, so they aren’t too useful as-is for electronics inspection while working with a soldering iron.

  5. I once picked up a -nice- (70s era) microscope in a discard/scrap bin. It was missing objectives and eyepieces, but the internal optics were pristine. The only thing missing now is a light source. Perhaps this posting will kick me into gear.

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