Adjustable Lights Help Peer Inside Chips With IR

If you’re used to working through a microscope, you’ve probably noticed that the angle of the light greatly affects how your workpiece looks. Most of us prefer the relatively flat lighting provided by a ring light, but variable angle side lighting can be useful too, especially when you’re peering inside ICs to make sure the silicon is what it’s supposed to be.

That’s what [Bunnie] is working on these days with his Project IRIS, short for “Infrared in situ,” a non-destructive method for looking inside chip packages. The technique relies on the fact that silicon is transparent to certain wavelengths of light, and that some modern IC packages expose the underside of the silicon die directly to the outside world. Initial tests indicated that the angle of the incident IR light was important to visualizing features on the metal interconnects layered onto the silicon, so [Bunnie] designed a two-axis light source for his microscope. The rig uses curved metal tracks to guide a pair of IR light sources through an arc centered on the focal point of the microscope stage. The angle of each light source relative to the stage can be controlled independently, while the whole thing can swivel around the optical axis of the microscope to control the radial angle of the lighting.

The mechanism [Bunnie] designed to accomplish all this is pretty complex. Zenith angle is controlled by a lead screw driving a connecting rod to the lights on their guide tracks, while the azimuth of the lights is controlled by a separate motor and pulley driving a custom-built coaxial bearing. The whole optical assembly is mounted on a Jubilee motion platform for XYZ control. The brief videos below show the lights being put through their paces, along with how changing the angle of the light affects the view inside a chip.

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Cheap DIY Microscope Lamp Makes Tiny Macro Shots Look Great

For optical microscopes, light is everything. If you don’t have a good amount of light passing through or bouncing off your sample, you’ve got nothing for your eyeballs or a camera to pick up. To aid in this regard, [Halogenek] whipped up a nifty microscope lamp with some LEDs.

The build uses a neat arch-shaped PCB with a hole in the middle for the microscope’s optics to pass through. Surrounding this are the LEDs, which provide a circle of light focused on the sample, akin to the ring lights so favored by today’s online influencers. The LEDs are powered via USB C, so the lamp can be run off of any garden-variety phone charger you might have lying around.

[Halogenek] reports that the lamp has proven useful for extreme macro shots of PCBs. It’s an easy build to replicate or redesign your own way if you’re doing similar work.

Microscopes are super useful, and there are all kinds of hacks you can do to make them perform better in your quest for science. Meanwhile, if you’ve been jazzing up your own lab hardware, let us know—we’d love to hear about it!

Cheap Microscope Can Take Amazing Images With Some Simple Upgrades

[Birdbrain] is trying to make their own microfluidic devices. To aid in this quest, they need a quality microscope to see what they’re doing. Instead of buying one outright, they purchased a cheap microscope and upgraded it to do the job instead.

Usability and performance is greatly improved over the stock unit, which was really only fit for learning purposes.

The cheap education-grade microscope cost around $50 USD, had few features, and wasn’t much chop out of the box. The worst part was the sample stage — which was poorly adjustable in the up-and-down axis and could only track about two centimeters up and down. There was no X or Y axis panning either, and it lacked a proper condensor iris, too. Oh, and the included camera module had a resolution of just 240p.

To fix these problems, the microscope was first outfitted with a fully redesigned X-Y-Z stage built out of old components from a salvaged DVD drive and an additional NEMA stepper motor. Camera-wise, it was hooked up with a 2K Raspberry Pi Camera Module 3 running at 10 to 15 frames per second, which broadcasts video over a local network for easy viewing on an external monitor. It also gained an epi-illumination setup for doing reflected light microscopy.

If you’re eager to build a quality microscope with all the controls you personally dream of, this could be a relevant project for you to study. We’ve featured some other builds along these lines before, too. Video after the break.

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Who Needs Sea Monkeys? Get PlanktoScope

Plankton are tiny organisms that drift around in the ocean. They aren’t just whale food — they are responsible for fixing up to 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide. That, along with their position as the base of many important food chains, makes them interesting to science. Unfortunately, they are tiny and the ocean is huge. Enter Planktoscope. Billed as “an affordable modular quantitative imaging platform for citizen oceanography,” the device is a software-controlled microscope with the ability to deal with samples flowing through.

The software is in Python and uses existing libraries for user interface, image processing, and other tasks. The computing hardware is in the form of a Raspberry Pi. There are actually two prototypes of PlanktoScope available.

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DIY Repair Brings An X-Ray Microscope Back Into Focus

Aside from idle curiosity, very few of us need to see inside chips and components to diagnose a circuit. But reverse engineering is another story; being able to see what lies beneath the inscrutable epoxy blobs that protect the silicon within is a vital capability, one that might justify the expense involved in procuring an X-ray imager.  But what’s to be done when such an exotic and expensive — not to mention potentially deadly — machine breaks down? Obviously, you fix it yourself!

To be fair, [Shahriar]’s Faxitron MX-20 digital X-ray microscope was only a little wonky. It still generally worked, but just took a while to snap into the kind of sharp focus that he needs to really delve into the guts of a chip. This one problem was more than enough to justify tearing into the machine, but not without first reviewing the essentials of X-ray production — a subject that we’ve given a detailed look, too — to better understand the potential hazards of a DIY repair.

With that out of the way and with the machine completely powered down, [Shahriar] got down to the repair. The engineering of the instrument is pretty impressive, as it should be for something dealing with high voltage, heavy thermal loads, and ionizing radiation. The power supply board was an obvious place to start, since electrostatically focusing an X-ray beam depends on controlling the high voltage on the cathode cup. After confirming the high-voltage module was still working, [Shahriar] homed in on a potential culprit — a DIP reed relay.

Replacing that did the trick, enough so that he was able to image the bad component with the X-ray imager. The images are amazing; you can clearly see the dual magnetic reed switches, and the focus is so sharp you can make out the wire of the coil. There are a couple of other X-ray treats, so make sure you check them out in the video below.

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Printed Upgrades Improve Cheap Digital Microscope

Digital microscopes used to be something that only labs or universities might have, but as image sensor technology has progressed, the prices have fallen to the point that any classroom or hobbyist can easily obtain a usable device. The only problem is that a lot of features and quality have been lost to make some of these digital microscopes more affordable. In an effort to add some of these creature comforts back into more inexpensive devices, [Marb’s lab] has created a special carriage for one of these microscopes.

The first addition to the microscope is improved lighting. To accomplish this, three LEDs were built into custom housings and wired to a purpose-built LED driver board coupled with a voltage regulator. Two of the LED housings were attached to the end of adjustable arms, allowing them to be pointed in whichever direction is needed. The third is situated directly below the microscope underneath the stage. These are all mounted to a large, sturdy PVC base which also holds an adjustable carriage for the microscope itself. This allows much more fine-tuning of the distance between the sample and the microscope than it otherwise would have had.

For just a few dollars and a little bit of effort, the usability of a device like this is greatly improved. If you want to take the opposite approach and really go all-out for your microscope, though, take a look at these microscopes used for PCB circuit construction and troubleshooting or even this electron microscope for viewing things at a much higher magnification than any optical system would allow.

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Digital Microscope With An On-Screen Multimeter

Some things go together, like chocolate and peanut butter. Others are more odd pairings, like bananas and bacon. We aren’t sure which category to put [IMSAI Guy]’s latest find in. He has a microscope with a built-in digital multimeter. You can see the video of the device in operation below.

The microscope itself is one of those unremarkable ten-inch LCD screens with some lights and a USB camera. But it also has jacks for test probes, and the display shows up in the corner of the screen. It is a normal enough digital meter except for the fact that its display is on the screen.

If you had to document test results, this might be just the ticket. If you are probing tiny little SMD parts under the scope, you may find it useful, too, so you don’t have to look away from what you are working on when you want to take a measurement. Although for that, you could probably just have a normal display in the bezel, and it would be just as useful.

At about $180 USD, it’s not exactly an impulse buy. We wonder if we’ll someday see an oscilloscope microscope. That might be something. These cheap microscopes are often just webcams with additional optics. You can do the same thing with your phone. If you don’t need the microscope, but you like the idea, can we interest you in a heads-up meter?

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