December 4, 2014
Making Microscopes | 3D Printing in the Classroom
At the beginning of the year I came across an article about a group of scientists who made microscopes with a 3D printer. Their design was simple. A small clip with a glass bead in it that fits over the camera of a smartphone or tablet. The size of the bead determines the strength of the magnification. The article discusses how the intent was to make inexpensive microscopes that can be discarded if they become contaminated. I’m not sure what they will do with the tablet or smartphone if that is the case, but the microscope part can be easily duplicated.
Right away I had a group of students read the article, watch the video, and download the files that were provided. This was really early on in the year, and I took this opportunity to teach a couple of my students how to work with the 3D printer. They had to download the file, open the Afinia software, open the file, initialize the printer, set the nozzle height, and print the microscopes.
The students also had the opportunity to research where we should get the glass beads that we needed for the lens. We finally used the link that was on the website and ordered two different sizes of glass beads. I now have enough glass beads to make microscopes for the rest of my career.
While we were waiting for the beads we went ahead and started printing the plastic parts. One of the files worked great, the other had some issues. We continued with the file that printed well and had a working microscope in no time. It worked really well with my cell phone but we ran into a problem with using the school iPads. Our protective cases are too big for the clips. We also noticed that the microscopes works much better with a light being shined on them.
A new project was born. The students need to redesign the 3D printed microscopes so that they will fit our school’s iPads. We have a 5th grade class that is already waiting to use them, and our 4th grade class will use them to look at crystals when we get to our geology unit.
I had to put that project on the shelf for a couple of months due to other priorities in the classroom, but last Friday I was able to launch the project for my students. The process has begun and they are working on their initial plans. They need to incorporate a light, which means they need a battery and a switch as well. So far they have some good looking plans. It will be interesting to see how the 3D models and 3D prints come out. You will have to stayed tuned to find out what happens.