Young researchers create inexpensive and versatile modular microscope

Medical teams in resource-poor countries – from electricity to supplies – operate in far from ideal conditions. It was thinking of these professionals and thousands of others involved in infectious disease research (such as covid-19) that young researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) and the Jena University created a 3D printed modular microscope.

Most of the complex optical configurations (including that of the most advanced modern microscopes) are based on the coincidence of focal planes of adjacent lenses – according to Leibniz IPHT physicist-chemist Rainer Heintzmann, an inherently modular process. This is the case with UC2 (You see too, or “You see it too”).

The structure is simple: countless cubes, with 5 cm plastic rods, embedded in a magnetic scanning base. The recombination of the modules, equipped with lenses, LEDs or cameras, forms the optical instrument that is needed.

Leibniz-IPHT / Disclosure

“Modern microscopes are expensive, equip specialized laboratories and require highly qualified personnel. Urgent scientific issues – such as the fight against infectious diseases such as covid-19 – are therefore reserved mainly for scientists in well-equipped centers in rich countries ”, said researcher Friedrich Schiller, from Jena University, who, together with Heintzmann, guided students ahead of UC2.

. Leibniz-IPHT / Disclosure

Recycling

According to physicist Benedict Diederich, one of the creators of UC2, “commercial microscopes cost hundreds or thousands of times more than our UC2 setup. You can hardly install one in a contaminated laboratory, as you will not be able to remove or clean it it later ”, adding that the modular microscope can be recycled after use.

The versatility of the project is impressive. “Use determines the choice of cubes; then, just stack them. The UC2 system allows you to combine the elements depending on the resolution, stability, duration or microscopy method needed and tested directly in the rapid prototyping process,” said Diederich.

The entire project (open source) is available online in the GitHub repository to be accessed, modified and expanded according to the user’s needs. “With user feedback, we improved the system step by step and added creative solutions. The first users have already started to expand the system, ”said René Lachmann.

. Leibniz-IPHT / Disclosure

The objective of the development of UC2 is to allow what young researchers call “open science”: any scientist will be able to reproduce the system and develop experiments anywhere in the world, even if their laboratory is not one of the best equipped.

Science for 1 cent

The concept, in Diederich’s words, is “science for a penny”, within what he called “paradigm shift”: getting the scientific process to be “as open and transparent as possible, accessible to all”, giving researchers, regardless of where they are, the possibility of sharing and collecting knowledge, incorporating it into their work.

“We want to make modern microscopy techniques accessible and build an open and creative community. The do-it-yourself approach has enormous potential, especially in times of a pandemic, when access to this type of equipment is now severely limited,” he explained. the doctoral student.

The modules, used in the classroom.The modules, used in the classroom.Source: Leibniz-IPHT / Disclosure

The group went further and created a kit, called The Box (or “A Caixa”), for learning optical concepts and microscopy methods. “The components can be combined to form a projector or a telescope; you can build a spectrometer or microscope for a smartphone, ”explains physicist Barbora Maršíková, author of a series of experiments and scripts to be used in the classroom.

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