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DIY: How to Make a Microscope

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A microscope may seem like a fancy piece of lab equipment that you need to be a scientist to own. That couldn’t be further from the truth. With a few simple items you can easily make your own DIY microscope and explore the itty bitty world. You will be amazed by all of the new things that you see that can’t normally be spied with the naked eye! 

Materials

x1) Laser pointer 

(x1) Jumbo paperclip 

(x1) Pack of index cards 

(x1) Smartphone 

Step 1

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The first step is to disassemble the laser pointer until you can remove the little plastic lens. In most laser pointers this is as simple as twisting apart two covers on the front (pointer) side. 

Step 2

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Once the lens is removed, it is important to identify the front side. This is the side of the lens that is a little bit curved and has a small raised edge around the lens. 

Step 3

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Press the lens in-between the second-largest loop of the paperclip. It should be held snugly in place, but if it is not just squeeze the sides of the paperclip together to decrease the size of the loop and hold it in place.

Step 4

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Slide the paperclip onto the edge of the index card so that the lens is sticking out from the edge. Place the card back onto the top of the stack such that the front side of the lens is facing down. 

Step 5

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Place the phone on the top of the stack and line up the phone’s camera lens.  

The easiest way to do this is turn on the phone’s camera app and sticking a finger in front of the lens. Once your enlarged fingerprint is in focus, you’ve lined it up.

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If the phone is in a case, it is best to remove it to make sure it gets as close to the laser pointer lens as possible. 

Step 6

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A microscope has a very shallow depth of focus. In plain English, this means that if you get either too close or too far away from your specimen it will go out of focus. The easiest way to focus the microscope is by adjusting the height of the stack of index cards by adding or removing cards until it is focused.  

Step 7

Clover leaf Image
Onion skin Image

Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment and try examining lots of different types of specimens. 

Can you guess what these are?

Step 8

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To go even further you can light your sample from below using a small flashlight pointed upwards.  

If placing the specimen directly atop the flashlight is too bright, space the specimen slightly above the flashlight by using a small clear container. In this example I use an empty lip balm holder. 

To elevate the microscope above the specimen, simply place it on top of a stack of large books.