There are millions of old and outdated iPhones collecting dust. Researchers in Germany have found a way to turn some of those old iPhones, specifically an iPhone 5 camera module, into affordable microscopes for young students. Using LEGO, an iPhone 5 camera, LED lighting and a modern smartphone, students can build their own microscope.
Researchers Bart E. Vos, Emil Betz Blesa and Timo Betz from Georg August University Göttingen and Munster University in Germany set out to build a high-resolution microscope that wasn’t prohibitively expensive. Toy microscopes aren’t very effective, and specialized microscopes cost a lot of money, limiting their accessibility.
The researchers said, ‘Our aim is to introduce a microscope to individual students in a classroom setting, both as a scientific tool to access the micro-world and to facilitate the understanding of fundamental principles of the optical components of a microscope in a playful and motivating, yet precise approach. By basing the design on LEGO, we aim to make the microscope modular, cheap, and inspiring.’
The researchers used an iPhone 5 camera module, smartphone and LEGO housing to craft a high-resolution microscope. Many people already have LEGO pieces around, and iPhone 5 lenses are quite cheap to come by. The researchers found one for under $5. The project’s full price, without including the cost of a modern smartphone, is €102 (about $120 USD). There’s a bit more to it, but it’s straightforward and inexpensive. Documentation for building your own microscope is available for free.
The hope is that the LEGO microscope will make science more accessible to children worldwide. Every child deserves the opportunity to learn about our world, including the parts of it we can’t see with the naked eye. ‘An understanding of science is crucial for decision-making and brings many benefits in everyday life, such as problem-solving and creativity,’ said Professor Timo Betz, University of Göttingen. ‘Yet we find that many people, even politicians, feel excluded or do not have the opportunities to engage in scientific or critical thinking. We wanted to find a way to nurture natural curiosity, help people grasp fundamental principles and see the potential of science.’
In addition to providing the plans for free, Vos, Blesa and Betz also published a paper about the microscope project.