Field of Science

Cell Phone Microscopy

micro phone lens packaging
and case
In my pursuit of portable microscopy I came across this product initially funded through Kickstarter. The micro phone lens is a small plastic disc that sticks to a cell phone's camera lens, turning it into a 15X microscope. I had to try it out and I thought it would be worth the $15 experiment. 

Case with lens in the
lower lefthand corner.
The lens comes in a small container with an eye-catching black and white design on the top. It is great that the whole setup is so portable, but I am in a constant state of nearly loosing it. I have set my phone down, forgetting to have the lens facing up, only to have the lens come off as I picked up my phone. I have dropped it on the floor covering it in dust. And last night I completely forgot to take the lens off when I was finished and found it stuck on the kitchen table when I went to eat my cereal and read my morning dose of The Economist. Maybe it was just a forgetful and slightly klutzy episode of microscopy, but you get the idea. Beware of loosing this small disc that is slightly larger than the O on your keyboard! Fortunately the lens is also quite resilient. It is bendable and can be easily cleaned with water. 

Let me show you what this little lens can do. I pulled out a dried lichen that I collected on a drive into the California coast range. It is the lace lichen, Ramalina menziesii, aptly named for the lacy filaments that increase the surface area of this lichen, enabling it to better absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. 

Ramalina menziesii the lace lichen

I took the photos below with the micro phone lens stuck to my Nokia Lumina 928 cell phone. The lens requires a camera with at least a 5 megapixel camera and mine is 8.7 megapixels. The center of the photos is in crisp focus, but I was disappointed that the field of view is so small and that parts of the lichen near the edge of the image are thus out of focus. The demo on the website has the entire field of view in focus. That video was taken with a tablet whereas mine were with a phone, so it could be that the interaction between the lens and my phone optics are the issue. 

An even closer view of the lace lichen
Up close with the lace lichen

The other issue I had was stabilizing the camera and taking a photo at the same time. The instructions online recommend using the lens case as a platform for the phone when taking photos. This works pretty well, but I ended up needing to tip my phone to adjust the distance to the sample I was looking at since it wasn't sitting flush against the table.

This company is also in the process of developing a 150X lens and just had another successful Kickstarter project to fund it. After my experience with the 15X lens I think I will hold off on purchasing the higher magnification one. More magnification means a smaller depth of field and I think that the 15X lens is reasonably challenging to focus. I bet that the 150X will be even more difficult. I will wait until some reviews come out before jumping on that one. 

Lily flower
Another plant I examined was a lily that I got in a bouquet from the farmer's market on Saturday. Specifically I zoomed in to take a look at the the pollen-covered anthers.


The 15X lens gets us significantly closer to the pollen than my cell phone camera can without assistance. Still a small field of view, but all-in-all reasonably good for a 15 dollar addition to my magnification arsenal.  
The pollen up close and personal. 

Microscopy for the Masses

Microscopes are amazing tools! I had a small plastic one as a kid and I loved exploring items I collected outdoors. Parts of plants, a scoop of soil, basically anything I could get my hands on I mounted up on a slide and looked at under my microscope. That is one aspect that drew me to study mosses. Microscopes are an essential tool to identify moss species and the closer you look at mosses the more amazing features you uncover!  

My family is well aware of my love of microscopes and my sister recently sent me a link to this TED talk about a microscope made almost entirely of paper that costs around 50 cents to produce. It is a really inspirational talk and I think that these scopes are going to revolutionize microscopy. 

I completely agree with the assessment that traditional microscopes are much too bulky for the field. When I head out to collect mosses I don't take my microscopes with me. I bring the mosses back to my microscopes, which stay at home or in the lab. I think that foldscopes would be a great way to take moss identification into the field and enable identification to species without bulky microscopes or having to wait until returning to the laboratory. 

I thought about submitting an application for the 10,000 Microscope Project, focusing on outreach to the public and exploring mosses in the field, but life became busy and it slipped off my priority list. I will definitely have to get a proposal put together for the next round of testing. I think that these scopes would be a great way to introduce people to mosses and enable exploration and identification without a costly setup. 

June 2014 Desktop Calendar

Some mosses with a friendly fungi : )

June Desktop Calendar

1 - Single click on the image to open it up in a new window. (If you use the image directly from the blog post you will lose a lot of resolution.)

2 - Right-click (or ctrl-click) on the image, and chose the option that says, "Set as Desktop Background" or "Use as Desktop Picture". The wording may vary.

3 - If the image does not fit your desktop neatly, you may have to adjust the image (Mac: System Preferences - Desktop and Screen Saver - Desktop; Windows: Control Panel - Display - Desktop) and choose "Fill screen" as the display mode of your background image.