Photo by IBM Research
An engineer from IBM’s research unit in Switzerland has built a $300 microscope out of LEGO bricks and other miscellaneous parts. And the results are so good, IBM Research has published them. In a YouTube video, the IBM Research team details the assembly with an illustrated step by step.
The plans for Yuksel Temiz’s “LEGO microscope” are all available on IBM’s Github , and Temiz wrote about the microscope for the May 2020 issue of IEEE Spectrum. He describes building a complex, high-end imaging setup that could capture footage of IBM’s microfluidic chips:
“I was able to take eye-catching videos as liquids filled microfluidic channels. However, my photo setup occupied half a bench in our lab and it required hours of fine adjustments to record one shot.”
Temiz called on IBM Zurich’s history of microscope development and decided, like Marc “Linux Teletype” Verdiell , that he could apply a long and accomplished history of high-level DIY tinkering to try to find a better way. “The result was a US $300 modular and motorized microscope that combines my three favorite adulthood hobbies: Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and [LEGO],” Temiz writes.
Arduino is a company that makes microcontrollers, which are tiny circuits that include everything someone needs in order to operate a specific kind of system. They’re good for pieces of equipment that do a fairly straightforward job, like medical equipment or household appliances . In this case, Temiz wanted an Arduino chip that he can set up and program to operate his imaging setup.
Arduino is an open source project, and its integrated developer environment (IDE), which people use to code their microcontrollers, is available online . But programmers can use anything they want to put C or C++ code onto an Arduino chip. And then Temiz added a Raspberry Pi, which is often mentioned in the same breath as Arduino because of its similar role in the world of tinkerers.
But the Raspberry Pi is much more powerful, with an onboard operating system and the ability to do more sophisticated tasks with more variety. In this case, Temiz linked it with an official Raspberri Pi camera attachment. Then, with the help of a LEGO structure and some 3D-printed parts, he had everything he needed to capture and process high-quality microscope images.
Technically, you can do this at home—especially if you’re also an experienced tinkerer and circuitry builder. The hardware part is sophisticated, but it’s still well within reach, and for a lot less than a similar commercial microscope. And, IBM Research reports , an employee’s 7-year-old son immediately got the knack.
“He’s used to building LEGO toys, and as soon as he saw the instructions, he instantly started following them and assembling the device,” IBM scientist Thomas Gervais said. “He made it work in a few minutes, it was actually pretty impressive.”