About this project
Bacteria captured consuming flower pollen.
Tsunami debris is a home for microbes on the Olympic Peninsula.
This is The MicrobeScope with a prototype Kickstand and an iPad Air.
The MicrobeScope Story
The MicrobeScope is a very powerful fixed focus instrument capable of viewing sub 1micron features of individual bacteria and other life forms at the physical limits of optical resolution. It works great in the field, in the lab, or at home yet is simple enough for a child to use. It doesn’t require any supplies like glass slides, and there are no knobs to adjust.
The specimen is placed directly on the inverted lens, and the internal AAA size battery powered light source provides the illumination. The 800x magnification achieved by this simple device is unmatched by other small scopes and the phone mount is a game changer because of the ability to share real time video.
The zoom features on newer iPhones can increase the magnification capability to 2,000x with near diffraction-limited performance, and one of the best things about using a mobile phone to capture video is that audio notes or narration can be easily added. Our favorite feature with the iPhone 5s is the slow motion capture ability. Many microbes move at very high speeds and slow motion capture enables us to see them do some pretty weird things.
Ben Coxworth of www.gizmag.com has written an article that does a very nice job of summing up what has been presented here on Kickstarter about the MicrobeScope and compares it to other similar microscopes he has written about. Find the article here.
Developing The MicrobeScope
4D Optical has been doing product development and optical engineering consulting out of the same shop for 10 years, and more than 100 million product units have been sold with optical parts that were designed by us. We have worked for a range of customers from startups to Fortune 100 companies. This MicrobeScope product has been an internal R&D project that we have worked on in between other contracts as our budget allowed.
The heart of the MicrobeScope is our unique objective lens, and we tried using it in several configurations.
While designing the MicrobeScope around our lens, we also hoped to produce a product that was small and had the ability to record video. Before cell phone cameras became as good as they are now we were using standard video cameras. While this scope version produced excellent optical quality, it was not as small or as durable as we wanted. We also tried out a version that was pocket sized, but it did not have good video capture capabilities. When the iPhone 4S came out we realized that it was the perfect video camera, so we went back to the drawing board and came up with the MicrobeScope, which brings all of our original ideas to life.
Two patents have been issued on the MicrobeScope and we have spent lots of time working on this project just because we love it. We think the MicrobeScope will turn the microscope industry upside-down.
The MicrobeScope is a serious tool and we take pride in our manufacturing process. The durable outer casing is plastic, but the optics are all glass with optical coatings. Every MicrobeScope has 8 of these precision glass elements that we order from other suppliers, but the secret sauce is in how we put them together and we have spent years perfecting the techniques we use to do this.
We are launching on Kickstarter because we respect the Kickstarter community's approach to creative development, and we need early adopters and feedback. We’ve demonstrated the prototypes to a lot of enthusiastic people, but we need exposure to get the word out. We think that there are serious applications for this device, and we want to show what can be done with it. We hope that each Kickstarter will send us a 10- second video clip of their favorite microbial discovery using the MicrobeScope so we can share how cool it is with the world.
Donation: Your pledge of $15 sponsors a donation to a school. For every 10 pledges, we will donate one MicrobeScope. Feel free to nominate a school for consideration. Please post your nominations in the comments on update #2. Thanks!
Tier 1 or Tier 2: Your pledge makes you an early adopter and puts a MicrobeScope in your hands soon after the end of the campaign. Please send us a 10 second video clip made with the MicrobeScope.
Tier 3: Your pledge helps transition us into medium volume production and puts a MicrobeScope in your hands in midsummer or fall depending on how many orders we get. We will ship first come first serve.
Risks and challenges
The MicrobeScope has been developed to a point where it is ready for production in our shop in Edmonds, Washington. We plan to take time off of consulting to focus on fulfilling the Kickstarter rewards. We own the manufacturing equipment we need, and we have tooling and manufacturing stations already set up. We currently have a parts inventory that will allow us to manufacture about 300 units with minimal additional purchasing, and no staff changes. Fulfilling up to 300 rewards will be relatively easy for us. The pictures and videos shown on Kickstarter were made with our pilot units, so the units we will send Kickstarter backers will be identical.
Larger numbers of rewards will be more challenging, but we are ready to ramp it up. If we get more than two thousand orders we will hire technicians and assemblers to staff a manufacturing facility that is separate from our research and development space, and at that volume and interest level it will clearly be a standalone business.
In any case, we believe we can deliver the rewards in a timely manner by ordering and staffing at the appropriate levels. Our suppliers have been chosen for their volume capabilities and the structure of the up front payments from Kickstarter will provide us with the cash we need to order larger volumes of parts and pay salaries. We have been through other startups and have successfully brought products to market, so none of this will be new to us and we look forward to the challenges.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Thanks to about ten very helpful sales-people at the Best Buy store in Lynnwood, WA we can now say that the mount we designed for the iPhone also works for all of the other common phone models and brands. This includes but is not limited to Android, Samsung, Nokia, and Motorola. An exception to this is the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom which has a giant lens in the center like a point-and-shoot camera. If you are still curious about whether or not your phone will work with our current mount, feel free to ask.
After a trip to Best Buy (a large electronics store) to do some testing, we found that the cameras on all of the major tablet brands work with the MicrobeScope. The notable exceptions are the Microsoft Surface products since the cameras on these devices look out at an angle to compensate for the tilt in their stand.
We are going to create an extension to our current mount that will provide more support for these larger devices and call it "The Kickstand" in honor of all you Kickstart-ers! We will have more information on this development soon.
After a trip to Best Buy (a large electronics store) to do some testing, the answer is maybe. In general, cameras with lenses smaller than 20 mm in diameter work, but cameras with larger lenses will be more challenging. We have used a canon 7D with a 50 mm f/1.8 lens with great success, but if you want to get professional level video you should contact us. We will have more information on this topic soon.
No. This device is designed to view samples that are in immersion and that directly contact the lens surface. Cover slips on slides increase the distance from the focal plane to the sample. Slim plastic cover slips can be used to prevent a sample from drying out, but generally a regular microscope is your best solution if your sample is already mounted.
Are you going to offer a slide holding device so we can preserve slides and use stains for further analysis?
It is likely that we will develop a version of this scope that will require slides and provide a stage for focus and translation later, but those changes will make it somewhat complex and fragile and therefore less well suited for beginning microscopists. We wanted to be the first company to open a window on the world of microbial life for everybody. Also, we find that video opens up a whole new aspect of field study where the video can be re-reviewed instead of the slide. For example, the social behaviors of live microbes in the field are as interesting as the microbes themselves.
Staining slides and the art of histology is something we hope people discover through their use of the MicrobeScope, but our main goal was to popularize high magnification by removing the need for immersion oil, glass slides, and high precision stages. It is easy to understand why we have struggled to achieve simplicity when you see children (and parents) use this scope. We own a $25k microscope that only gets used occasionally because it is inconvenient and time consuming even though it makes superb images. The extra effort it takes to use a fancy microscope is often not worth the effort unless advanced features are actually needed to view the specimen. When those features are needed it is usually best to find a traditional microscope. We see the need for a reasonably priced portable microscope with full functionality, but the complexity and fragility drive up costs and reduce the pool of potential customers so it is second on our list.
We are working on a list of things to look at and how to collect samples. We should have a list ready before the scopes ship. Suggestions welcome!
Great question. In the headline video we have included a video clip of a human hair. The size of the hair in this video may help you understand what size objects can be viewed with the MicrobeScope and give you a familiar frame of reference. We submerged the hair in a small droplet of water because a fluid enables the light to enter the lens at high angles. Mineral oil is even better than water but it makes a mess, so unless you are persnickety we recommend water (saliva is better than water but often contains skin cells and occasionally bacteria).
The hair video shows some of the hair surface features, but much of it is out of focus because the hair is much thicker, at 100microns, than the depth of focus. Generally, the depth of focus is about 1/3rd as deep as the thickness of a human hair and the best focus is really only about 1/10th as deep. The depth of focus is related to the magnification and wave nature of light, so this is a universal limitation for all microscopes. We have balanced many factors to give you the best image possible with microbes that swim close to the lens surface. Objects that are bigger than about 50microns will be visible to the unaided eye and are better suited for a less powerful microscope.
Some of the smallest things you will see will be the sub-micron features of bacteria, or the flagella on microbes used for locomotion and food collection. Brownian Motion is always cool too.
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