Skip to main content

Want to do some science? Here’s a smartphone microscope you can 3D print

smartphone microscopes

ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics

Over the past few years, citizen scientists have helped illuminate our universe. From mapping refugee camps to cataloging nearby stars, these amateurs often work after hours and without pay, making access to data and the affordability of tools key to their success.

Related Videos

Now a new smartphone microscope might help make science even more accessible for professionals and amateurs alike. Developed by researchers from the ARC Center of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University in Australia, the 3D-printable device can be attached to most smartphones to turn it into a fully functional microscope, strong enough to visualize specimens as small as a two-hundredth of a millimeter. That means it can be used to view microscopic organisms and blood cells, making it potentially useful for testing water cleanliness and analyzing blood samples.

The 3D printing files are free to download.

“There’s a lot of great work out there by scientists who have adapted mobile phones into microscopes for use in medical diagnostics in areas where it might be impractical to bring a normal, heavy, expensive microscope,” Antony Orth, the RMIT researcher who led the development of the microscope, told Digital Trends. “Most of these devices are amazingly engineered, but they are more complicated than you’d think. There are lots of little parts you need to make it work, and assembling everything can be a bit daunting if you don’t have access to a lab. We wanted to go in the other direction, to see what was the simplest microscope we could make.”

Since most smartphone microscopes rely on an externally powered light source, Orth and his team tried to find a light source within the phone itself. The camera flash was the obvious choice but posed its own problems, since it would illuminate the sample from the wrong side.

“The challenge is that the flash is facing the wrong way,” he said. “It’s meant to illuminate whatever is in front of you. For microscopy, we actually want it to shine directly through our microscopic sample and into the camera. So we need to turn light around to illuminate the sample.”

Orth and his colleagues realized that the smartphone camera flashes generate a lot of light, making them strong enough to take a detour through a tunnel in the 3D-printed device, and end illuminating the sample from behind. It was a simple solution that lets the microscope work without a mirror.

Moving forward, the researchers want to expand the capabilities of their device, which can already be used to visualize samples with light and dark backgrounds. Orth advised us to stay tuned, saying, “We have some tricks up our sleeves that we think can enable us to see 3D structures, as well as improved resolution.”

A paper detailing the microscope’s development was published this week in the journal Science Reports.

Editors' Recommendations

How to disable 3D and Haptic Touch in iOS
An example of 3D Touch on an iPhone.

In 2015, when Apple launched the iPhone 6S, it also debuted a new iOS interface called 3D Touch. This feature uses the iPhone's pressure-sensitive surface to help you view, navigate, and control some aspects of the device's apps and features. You could use it to call up an app's Quick Actions, preview notifications, operate actions from the Control Center, and "peek and pop" with certain apps without having to launch them.

3D Touch was used in the iPhone 6S, 7, 8, X, and XS models before being replaced by Haptic Touch, which responds only to a finger press's length. While some people could use 3D Touch to their advantage and profoundly miss it, others found it unintuitive at best and annoying at worst. This article explains how to disable 3D Touch on iPhones that have it and disable Haptic Touch.
How to disable 3D Touch and Haptic Touch

Read more
The best 3D printers under $500
3D printers are finally affordable. Here are the best models under $500
anycubic photon review 3d printer xxl 2

The 3D printing market has seen quite a few changes over the last few years. In just the span of a decade, the barrier to entry has dropped from well over several thousand dollars to under $200 in some cases. However, all entry and mid-level printers are not made equal. We have a few suggestions for prospective buyers and other information regarding alternatives not found on this list.

To some veterans of the 3D printing scene, this list may seem like it lacks a few of the most commonly recommended printers for newcomers. This is by design. Our list only considers printers with tested components from proven, reliable vendors. That's why we chose the Monoprice MP Mini v2 as our top pick--it's reliable and easy to use. We have avoided any printer with a frame primarily made from interlocking acrylic pieces and anything historically unreliable.
Most bang for your buck: Monoprice MP Mini v2

Read more
Ceramic ink could let doctors 3D print bones directly into a patient’s body
ceramic ink 3d printed bones bioprinting australia 2

Scientists use a novel ink to 3D print ‘bone’ with living cells

The term 3D bioprinting refers to the use of 3D printing technology to fabricate biomedical parts that, eventually, could be used to create replacement organs or other body parts as required. While we’re not at that point just yet, a number of big advances have been made toward this dream over the past couple of decades.

Read more