A powerful microscope
that simply plugs into your laptop.
With a few simple tools and a little bit of time (we suggest you set aside about 1.5 hours to complete) you will soon be gaining a new perspective on the world and discovering things invisible to the naked eye!
What makes this microscope different to other USB microscopes we have seen is the use of a transparent twist container to provide an easy-to-use focusing mechanism that also protects the camera from knocks and scrapes.
This microscope can be used facing up, as well as down, which is particularly useful if you want to view prepared slides or water specimens.
Before you start to build your microscope make sure you have all the necessary parts and tools, a suitable space in which to work, and a surface that you can cut and glue on. A ready to assemble kit containing all of the necessary parts is available from our store.
You will also require the following tools:
The first step is to take apart your webcam. The webcam supplied in our kit can be easily dismantled with a small Philips head screwdriver and some pulling apart. The aim is to strip everything back until you are left with a small circuit board, a lens and a USB cable. Audio components are not really required so these can be removed or taped out of the way.
The twist container in our kit comes with holes pre-cut. However, to be able to place your microscope on a table facing up, which is useful if you want to observe water samples for example, you need to keep the USB cable out of the way. This can be achieved by cutting a small 'notch' or channel about 5mm wide from the centre hole to the edge of the hexagonal top of the container.
Note: Make sure that when you are cutting you are using a knife with a good point, and that the container is on a suitable and stable surface e.g. a cutting mat or wood block.
Unscrew the lens barrel from the webcam if you haven’t already.
You now need to reattach it – upside down! The neatest way to do this is to saw the first part of the barrel off so that you are left with the ‘threaded’ section only. If you do this carefully enough (a fine saw and a vice help) you should be able to screw the barrel back in to it’s holder.
And that's it! Your webcam is now a microscope (albeit a quite hard to focus microscope, but we'll soon sort that out).
Note: The advantage of the ‘neat’ approach is that you have some ability to ‘focus’ the lens once it is back in place (experiment to find the best position for the lens, we prefer to screw the barrel in to get the lens as close to the sensor as is possible).
Alternatively, you can simply turn the barrel upside down and glue it in place. However, this leaves less scope for fine-tuning the focus.
Fix your modified webcam to one of the MDF rings with a little hot glue. Take care to get the camera level and central.
To avoid the ‘shadowing’ that can sometimes be observed when using the scope in bright light, simply apply a small rectangle of black electrical tape to the back of the webcam circuit board as illustrated below.
The tape prevents light passing through the back of circuit board and being reflected on to the image sensor. This fix was suggested by Sergio A Martinez, to who we are eternally grateful :-)
You now need to create two neoprene ‘gaskets’ to hold the MDF ring holding your camera in place. Our kit comes with a 10mm wide strip that can be cut to give you two 5mm strips.
First, place a 5mm wide strip of neoprene around the inside of the top half of the twist container (the bit with the hexagonal end) so that its bottom edge is about 7mm from the bottom edge of the container edge.
Now place the MDF ring holding the camera against this first strip of Neoprene (you will need to feed the USB cable through the top hole to do this). Then add a second 5mm strip of neoprene directly below the MDF ring to ‘sandwich’ it in place. The bottom edge of this second strip should be flush with the edge of the plastic.
You're almost done!
Join the two halves of your twist container together and plug the microscope in to your computer. If you have the right drivers and some compatible webcam software* you should be able to create an image on screen (you may have to set your microscope webcam as the source to make this happen).
As a simple first test, try focusing your microscope on white area of your computer display until you get an image of the individual RGB LEDs that make up the pixels - it should look like the image below.
*We have been successfully using MacCam webcam drivers and CamSpinner on a Mac to capture images and record video. If you are using a PC you might require something different, or you might already have everything you need :-) If not there is plenty of help available via the power of the internetz :-)
All that remains now is to double check everything is in place and to glue the remaining MDF ring to the bottom of your twist container and the disc to the top of the container to finish things off. Hot glue works well.
Note: before you add the disc to the top, a little bit of hot glue where the cable exits will help prevent it being pulled out.
So there you have it! You've made yourself a powerful little USB microscope. Now you can make a start making discoveries!
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