IBM’s $300 Open Source Lego Microscope

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2022

microscopic image of a fruit fly

microscopic image of a microfluidic chip

Using Lego bricks, a Raspberry Pi mini-computer, an Arduino microcontroller, some off-the-shelf components like lenses, and 3D-printed components, IBM scientist Yuksel Temiz built a fully functional microscope to help him with his work. The materials cost around $300 and the microscope performs as well as scopes many times more expensive — the images above were taken with the Lego scope.

The microscope works so well that for the past two years Temiz and his colleagues in the microfluidics lab at IBM Research, just meters away from the picturesque Zurich lake, have been using the images they took with it in their papers, published in leading journals. They also use them for presentations at major conferences. Not all images relate to microfluidics — the area of science that involves manipulating fluids on miniscule chips in a very precise manner. The liquids can be blood or urine, used for cancer and infectious diseases research as well as understanding heart attack conditions, and more. Researchers also routinely take images of typical computer chips, and Temiz showed me, for instance, how to take a stunning close up of a fruit fly.

Here’s a quick video look at how to build your own:

The the full set of open-sourced instructions are available on GitHub.