CM – A high-resolution microscope made from LEGO and telephone bits


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June 24, 2021

from the University of Göttingen

Microscopy is an indispensable tool in many areas of science and medicine. However, many groups have limited access to this technology due to its cost and fragility. Researchers at the Universities of Göttingen and Münster have now succeeded in building a high-resolution microscope that consists only of children’s plastic components and cheap cell phone parts. They then showed that children between the ages of nine and 13 had a significantly improved understanding of microscopy after building and working with the LEGO microscope. Their results were published in The Biophysicist.

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The researchers designed a fully functional, high-resolution microscope with capabilities approaching those of a modern research microscope. Except for the optics, all parts came from the toy brick system. The team found that the lenses of modern smartphone cameras, which cost around 4 euros each, are of such high quality that they can even resolve individual cells. The scientists created building instructions for the microscope and step-by-step instructions that guide people through the construction process and at the same time learn the relevant optical properties of a microscope. The researchers measured children’s understanding using questionnaires given to a group of nine to 13 year olds. The researchers found that children who received the parts and blueprints to build their own microscope significantly improved their knowledge of microscopy. For this particular study, the researchers, who focus on basic biophysical processes in their daily research, benefited from the input and enthusiasm of their 10-year-old co-author.

“An understanding of science is crucial for decision-making and brings many advantages in everyday life with itself, such as problem solving and creativity, ”says Professor Timo Betz, University of Göttingen. “Nevertheless, we find that many people, including politicians, feel excluded or have no opportunity to think scientifically or critically. We wanted to find a way to stimulate natural curiosity, help people understand basic principles, and recognize the potential of science. « 

The researchers stayed in touch with the children and monitored their progress: after building the main parts, they discovered that the lenses could act as magnifying glasses. After researching this, they realized that a good source of light was important , they found it difficult to align two magnifying glasses at first, but when they did so, the lenses generated enormous magnification, which allowed the children to literally “play” with the microscope: make their own adjustments; explore how the magnification works; and discover The exciting world of the microcosm for yourself.

« We hope that this modular microscope will be used in classrooms and at home all over the world to get children excited about science, » continues Betz. « We have shown that scientific research does not have to be separated from everyday life. It can be informative, instructive and entertaining. »

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