The Community Microscope is a Do-It-Yourself kit that is not only a radically affordable microscope, but one which you build yourself from simple household parts. Like all Public Lab kits, it was designed through collaboration among our global community.
Now we've launched a Kickstarter to recruit new collaborators.
Its true goal, however, is to transform the very idea of a microscope by challenging who can make one, and what it can be used for. By making it so simple to build, we're inviting people to remix and reinvent the microscope, and to turn it towards urgent issues like air pollution from sand mines, ocean microplastics, and more—questions which come from local environmental groups across the globe.
Like all Public Lab kits, it is open source, and hundreds of people have already joined our effort to change how environmental science works—by changing who can participate.
The Public Lab community
From dust motes, bacteria, chlorophyll and amoebas, a strange and fantastic world surrounds us.Using simple materials, we've developed a kit you can build yourself - the result of many teams' work coming together! Introducing the Community Microscope.
It takes only fifteen minutes to build, and plugs into a smartphone or laptop. It's a simple but elegant design—you focus it by tightening the bolts, and the basic version is made from a webcam with its lens flipped upside down.
This kit is very simple: a webcam, a platform of corrugated plastic, a set of nuts, bolts & rubber bands, and some double-sided adhesive strips. With it, you can easily see objects as small as 5 microns (a micron is 1/1000 of 1 millimeter), such as plant cells and the single-celled organisms that swim around in pond water and puddles. This kit is great for people who want to get started quickly and experiment with the way their microscope is put together.
How did we get here?
Not only does this kit build on the work of open source science groups like Parts & Crafts, Hackteria, Lifepatch and the Open Flexure Microscope project, but because of Public Lab's mission to address environmental problems that affect people, we also worked with communities who are facing air pollution which they hope to photograph with these kits.
Public Lab has been working with people across Wisconsin who've seen pollution from a boom in frac sand mining. The especially worrisome part is a form of air pollution called respirable silica—a fine, sharp-edged crystalline dust which can cause respiratory problems—blowing over and into peoples homes and yards.
Although many efforts to document pollution use expensive air samplers, lab tests and equipment, people living around the mines can see dust piling up on their windowsills and in their homes.
Some community members sought a way to actually see these particles as small as 2.5 microns in size —an idea which led to the Community Microscope project. These photos could be used in advocacy and to raise awareness, but may also be helpful to see what particles are made of, just by examining them visually.
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