Lego Microscope Does Research

We’ve seen a lot of practical machines built using Lego. Why not? The bricks are cheap and plentiful, so if they can get the job done, who cares if they look like a child’s toy? Apparently, not [Yuksel Temiz]. He’s an engineer for IBM whose job involves taking pictures of microscopic fluidic circuits. When he wasn’t satisfied with the high-power $10,000 microscopes he had, he built his own. Using Lego. How are the pictures? Good enough to appear in many scientific journals.

Clearly, the microscope doesn’t just contain Lego, but it still came in at under $300. According to an interview from Futurism, the target devices are reflective which makes photographing them straight-on difficult. After experimenting with cameras on tripods, [Yuksel] decided he could build his own specialized device. You can see a video of the devices in question and some of the photographs below.

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Oscilloscope And Microscope Augmented With Ghosts

Augmented reality saw a huge boom a few years ago, where an image of the real world has some virtual element layer displayed on top of it. To get this effect to work, however, you don’t need a suite of software and smart devices. [elad] was able to augment a microscope with the output from an oscilloscope, allowing him to see waveforms while working on small printed circuit boards with the microscope.

The build relies on a simplified version of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion. This works by separating two images with a semi-transparent material such as glass, placed at an angle. When looking through the material, the two images appear to blend together. [elad] was able to build a box that attaches to the microscope with a projection of the oscilloscope image augmented on the view of the microscope.

This looks like it would be incredibly useful for PCBs, especially when dealing with small SMD components. The project is split across two entries, the second of which is here. In one demonstration the oscilloscope image is replaced with a visual of a computer monitor, so it could be used for a lot more applications than just the oscilloscope, too. There aren’t a lot of details on the project page though, but with an understanding of Pepper’s Ghost this should be easily repeatable. If you need more examples, there are plenty of other builds that use this technique.

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Broken 3D Printer Turned Scanning Microscope

A few years ago, [Wayne] managed to blow out the main board of his Flashforge Finder attempting to change the fan. But the death of one tool ended up being the birth of another, as he ended up using its mechanical components and a Raspberry Pi to create an impressive scanning microscope.

Scan of Ulysses S. Grant from a US $50 bill

As you might have guessed from the name, the idea here is to scan across the object with a digital microscope to create an enlarged image of the entire thing. This requires some very precise control over the microscope, which just so happens to be exactly what 3D printers are good at. All [Wayne] had to do was remove the hotend, and print some adapter pieces which let him mount a USB microscope in its place.

The rest is in the software. The Raspberry Pi directs the stepper motors to move the camera across the object to be scanned in the X and Y dimensions, collecting thousands of individual images along the way. Since the focus of the microscope is fixed and there might be height variations in the object, the Z stage is then lifted up a few microns and the scan is done again. Once the software has collected tens of thousands of images in this manner, it sorts through them to find the ones that are in focus and stitch them all together.

The process is slow, and [Wayne] admits its not the most efficient approach to the problem. But judging by the sample images on the Hackaday.io page, we’d say it gets the job done. In fact, looking at these high resolution scans of 3D objects has us wondering if we might need a similar gadget here at the Hackaday Command Bunker.

The project is actually an evolution of an earlier attempt that used gutted optical drives to move the microscope around.

Review: Ear Wax Cleaning Cameras As Cheap Microscopes, We Take A Closer Look

Those of us who trawl the world of cheap imported goods will most often stay in our own comfortable zones as we search for new items to amaze and entertain us. We’ll have listings of electronic goods or tools, and so perhaps miss out on the scores of other wonders that can be ours for only a few dollars and a week or two’s wait for postage.

Who knew sticky ears were such big business!
Who knew sticky ears were such big business!

Just occasionally though something will burst out of another of those zones and unexpectedly catch our eye, and we are sent down an entirely new avenue in the global online supermarket.

Thus it was that when a few weeks ago I was looking for an inspection camera I had a listing appear from the world of personal grooming products. It seems that aural hygiene is a big market, and among the many other products devoted to it is an entire category of ear wax removal tools equipped with cameras. These can get you up close and personal with your ear canal, presumably so you can have a satisfying scoop at any accumulated bodily goop. I have a ton of electronics-related uses for a cheap USB close-up camera so I bought one of these so I could — if you’ll excuse the expression — get a closer look.

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3D Scanner For Tiny Objects Uses Blu-Ray Parts

There’s plenty of different methods to build a 3D scanner, with photogrammetry being a particularly accessible way to do it. This involves taking a series of photos from different angles to build up the geometry of the model. If you want to do this with something small, instead of a camera, just substitute a microscope! [NoseLace’s] LadyBug does just that.

It’s a 3D scanner built in a very hacker fashion. The X-Y stage that moves the sample is from a KES-400a Blu-Ray drive, salvged from the original “fat” Playstation 3. The Z axis is then created using the linear stepper motor from the optical pickup of the same drive. A rotary stepper motor is added on to the Z-axis to allow the sample to be rotated. It’s all combined with a basic USB microscope to take the images, and a Raspberry Pi which handles running all the stepper motors with some add-on driver boards.

[NoseLace] uses the device to create 3D models of insects, but it would work just as well with other small objects. The benefit of this approach is that it creates both the 3D model and the requisite texture, too. There’s plenty of open-source tools available if you’d like to try it for yourself. Video after the break.

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DIY Video Microscopy

Owning a Microscope is great fun as a hobby in general, but for hackers, it is a particularly useful instrument for assembly and inspection, now that we are building hardware with “grain of sand” sized components in our basements and garages. [voidnill] was given an Eduval 4 microscope by a well-meaning friend during a holiday trip. This model is pretty old, but it’s a Carl Zeiss after all, made in Jena in the erstwhile GDR. Since an optical microscope was of limited use for him, [voidnill] set about digitizing it.

He settled on the Raspberry-Pi route. The Pi and a hard disk were attached directly to the frame of the microscope, and a VGA display connected via a converter. Finally, the Pi camera was jury-rigged to one of the eyepieces using some foam. It’s a quick and dirty hack, and not the best solution, but it works well for [voidnill] since he wanted to keep the original microscope intact.

The standard Pi camera has a wide angle lens. It is designed to capture a large image and converge it on to the small sensor area. Converting it to macro mode is possible, but requires a hack. The lens is removed and ‘flipped over’, and fixed at a distance away from the sensor – usually with the help of an extension tube. This allows the lens to image a very small area and focus it on the (relatively) large sensor. This hack is used in the “OpenFlexure” microscope project, which you can read about in the post we wrote earlier this year or at this updated link. If you want even higher magnification and image quality, OpenFlexure provides a design to mate the camera sensor directly to an RMS threaded microscope objective. Since earlier this year, this open source microscope project has made a lot of progress, and many folks around the world have successfully built their own versions. It offers a lot of customisation options such as basic or high-resolution optics and manual or motorised stages, which makes it a great project to try out.

If the OpenFlexure project proves to be an intimidating build, you can try something easier. Head over to the PublicLab where [partsandcrafts] shows you how to “Build a Basic Microscope with Raspberry Pi”. It borrows from other open source projects but keeps things simpler making it much easier to build.

In the video embed below, [voidnill] gives a brief overview (in German) of his quick hack. If you’ve got some microscope hacks, or have built one of your own, let us know in the comments section.

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Cheap Stereo Microscope Helps With SMD

Soldering is best done under magnification. Parts become ever smaller and eyes get weaker, so even if you don’t need magnification now, you will. [Makzumi] didn’t want to shell out $400 or more for a good microscope so he hacked one from some cheap binoculars from the toy section on Amazon.

A lot of magnifiers aren’t really good for soldering because the distance between the work and the lens isn’t very large. The hacked ‘scope has about 4 inches of working distance, which is plenty of room to stick some solder and a hot iron under there. The resulting magnification is about 12 or 15X and he claims that the cell phone pictures he’s included aren’t as good as really looking through the eyepieces yourself.

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