Especially in microscopy one often needs mechanical adapters from one standardized system to another. Always buying those specialized components is not only expensive. The process of designing a custom-part using 3D CAD-software, send it to the workshop and wait for its production, is also very time consuming. The same is true for electronic circuits, where one often needs to have electronics that i.e. synchronize a signal across many different devices.
In recent years, the field of rapid prototyping became more and more in to the focus of research labs. The ability to use 3D printers and OpenSource electronic development kits like the Arduino, gives new tools at hand to design new techniques which are in its creativity just bound by the research’s ideas.
Luckily this idea has not only spread over several research labs, but has created a whole new so called OpenSource community that is interested to build new technologies and share their knowledge in form of blueprints, circuits, software, etc. People are encouraged to optimize someone else’s Software which is the currency in the world of OpenSource.
In our group we are experimenting with different 3D printing technologies to build new microscope’s which also benefit from components which are easily available, such as microscope objective lenses taken from broken cellphones ore programmable illumination sources from low-cost LED-projectors.
Since the introduction of the first smartphone in the year 2006, the power of devices in your pocket is getting stronger ever since. Especially the image quality of the small usually back-illuminated CMOS camera sensors and their objective lenses is getting better and better. The image’s quality is competing with middle-level compact cameras usually equipped with big lenses. Cellphone lenses are diffraction-limited and produced for the masses in a well controlled production process. This makes it very intersting for the use in imaging devices such as microscopes.
Using a cellphone objective in an inverse manner, one can reach a -1:1 magnification, where information in the range of the camera’s pixelsize (ca. 3-4 µm) can be captured.
The field of computational microscopy can push the abilities even further by controlling e.g. the illumination source using LED-arrays or cost effective video projectors. The formfactor of those small devices also allows it to use it in remote areas like incubators, where room is often very limited.