A group of scientists at the University of Göttingen and Münster University figured out a way to build functioning microscopes out of old iPhone 5 camera lenses and LEGO bricks. Why? To make common pieces of lab equipment more affordable to more people.
The report written by the researchers found that costly equipment is one of the biggest barriers blocking people from getting more involved in science. As a result, they worked to create a less costly alternative that would be affordable with readily available components.
“An understanding of science is crucial for decision-making and brings many benefits in everyday life, such as problem-solving and creativity,” stated Timo Betz, professor at the University of Göttingen and the paper’s co-author. “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.”
The high-magnification seen on the right in the image above is that seen through an iPhone 5 camera lens. The team bought a used one on eBay for less than $5. After removing all of the other electronics in the iPhone that weren’t needed, the lens was placed inside its new LEGO home and put to use.
The study continued after the microscopes were built and given to children aged 9 to 13. It showed that these kids had a “significantly increased understanding of microscopy after constructing and working with the LEGO microscope.” And since it was constructed from familiar materials, the microscope also encouraged the kids to build their own adaptations to further explore how magnification works.
“We hope that this modular microscope will be used in classrooms and homes all over the world to excite and inspire children about science,” Betz continued. “We have shown that scientific research does not need to be separate from everyday life. It can be enlightening, educational and fun!”
Instructions for the clever design are available now on GitHub under a free permissive Creative Commons license. They are currently available in English, French, Spanish, and Dutch, and the team welcomes help translating them into additional languages. This is the type of innovation we love to see!