Field of Science

Build-Your-Own Microscope

The microscope that I built with my aunt.
Continuing my pursuit of home microscopy, I came upon these instructions for building a microscope and had to try it out. As a microscope, it is bulkier than the small lens I discussed in my last post, but one of the major advantages is stability. Both the phone and the sample can be held still making focusing much easier. 

I tackled this project when I was in Ohio visiting my family. My aunt is a prolific woodworker and I raided her shed for supplies and power tools. The only component I ended up purchasing was a laser pointer that I disassembled for the small, plastic focusing lens inside. My first thought was to head to an office supply store for a laser pointer, but then a cat-lover in my family mentioned that laser pointers for cats can be found in many pet sections. Three dollars later, I had a laser pointer to tear apart. The online instructions mention a site where small lenses can be ordered, so that less destruction is necessary. 
A view of the adjustable stage and light source.

The project took an afternoon. Cutting wood and plexiglass, drilling holes for the bolts, and then putting it all together. I think it took me longer to hunt up all the supplies in the metal chest of drawers full of an odd assortment of bolts, nuts, and washers, along with the trip to the store for the laser pointer, than the actually assembly.

Some challenges with the microscope. The stage is a bit unsteady and can be challenging to adjust both washers in sync to the same height. In the comments of the online instructions several people came up with solutions that enable just one wheel to turn and the height of both sides to be adjusted. I didn't try any of these modifications, but I think they would be a nice addition. My solution to the unsteady stage was to use very large washers on top of the smaller ones. The stage still wobbles a bit when adjusting up and down, but the large washers were a significant improvement. 

Another issue is the light source that I am using. It was hanging out in the shed so I just grabbed it to use. However the light has a bank of bulbs that make the background illumination uneven. A quick fix was putting a piece of paper over the top to diffuse the light, but in the long term I will need to hunt up a replacement. 

A quarter for a focusing test.
Here are some photos that I took using this microscopy setup. 

A zoomed in shot of pollen on a lily anther.
I think this one came out a bit better than the one
from my previous post. It was also a bit easier to
focus using the microscope stand.

I then mounted some of the pollen on a slide topped
by a coverslip. The edges of the grains were not a crisp
as I would have liked, but maybe that is just the limit
of this microscope's magnification range. 
And now to try this microscope out on some mosses! I had a Grimmiaceae sample hanging around in my desk and thought that it would be a good test for the microscope. 

It works pretty well as a dissecting microscope.
We can see the long white hair tips at the apex
of each leaf. 
The moss leaves came out a bit better than
the pollen grains. I think practicing with the microscope
improved my focusing and skill lining up the camera
with the lens to get a better photo. 

Overall I really like the setup and think that it is a good alternative for having a home microscope. After the test run, I think that I could use a more powerful lens, or I think some of the instructions mention stacking lenses. It has plenty of magnification to function as a dissecting microscope, but needs a bit more power to work well as a compound microscope, at least for things as small as mosses. 

If you end up building one of your own it would be great to hear about your experiences in the comments section!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS