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Magnifying the life of things with a smartphone microscope

Germinated bacillus anthracis spores stained and imaged with a smartphone microscope modified for fluorescence. Courtesy PNNL.

This is one of the entries in the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) annual Science as Art contest. Aside from its eerie beauty, what makes this image of a germinated bacillus anthracis (the bacterium that causes anthrax) significant is that it was captured on a smartphone microscope.

That’s right: The image comes to you via a portable microscope attachment for smartphones that offers up to 1000x magnification. As you can see, it takes amazing pictures — better yet, it can be 3D printed for less than $1.

The attachment slips easily and snugly over the camera lens of a smartphone, and is a great way to get kids interested in science.

“There are many uses out there including human and veterinary medicine in developing countries," says Janine Hutchison, a microbiologist at PNNL. “School districts have a hard time providing enough microscopes for students, so our science education staff is getting it into the hands of local schools.”

Details on how to make this inexpensive microscope attachment are available at the PNNL website.

Scientists at PNNL have designed a 3D-printable microscope for mobile devices using pennies worth of plastic and glass materials. The microscope has a wide range of uses, from education to in-the-field science. Video courtesy PNNL.

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