Aug. 26, 2014 | By Alec

The potential that 3D printing technology holds for ambitious inventors and small, innovative companies is once again emphasized by Jing Luo, an American entrepreneur and graduate from UC Berkeley. With help from the internet, in the form of a successful $20,000 Kickstarter campaign and an ongoing $2,000 Indiegogo campaign, he is in the process of producing a portable, user-friendly and accurate microscope that works through your smartphone. He hopes to be able to ship these to customers by the end of 2014.

The Catalyst Frame Microscope can be attached to just about any smartphone.

Luo is currently on the fourth prototype of the Catalyst Frame Microscope, as he has called his creation. This simple construction attaches to the back of your smartphone and works through your camera software. The lens incorporated in this microscope has a magnification range of 30/50/170 or 30/170/340, dependant on the quality of your camera. As Luo explains on his crowd funding campaigns, 'Magnification combines with a multiplicative effect, so if you were to combine a 2x lens with a 3x lens you'd get a total of 6x. The same applies here, the 340x optical magnification combines with the 4.5x digital magnification to get a total of 1530x magnification.'

It's size makes this microscope very portable.

Unlike industrial, professional high power cameras, images cannot be infinitely magnified; past the maximum resolution the sight will just become blurry, but the creator hopes this can change with future models. The current construction, does however, enable just about the best magnification a portable microscope can offer. It is aimed at (biology) enthusiasts, doctors, scientists in developing countries, and people working outside laboratories, and runs on two AAA batteries which are just about universally available.

An image of a smear of human blood at different magnification levels, as seen through the microscope.

And this is where the real innovation is. It will make microscopic technology available just about everywhere, while traditional microscopes are too heavy, bulky and expensive to make that possible. Furthermore, this microscope can be attached to just about any type of smartphone and can, just like a regular smartphone camera, take photos, videos, time-lapse images and panoramics.

Key to this internet innovation is 3D printing, which has been indispensable while developing the various prototypes of the Catalyst Frame Microscope, and will be also used in the production of marketable productions. The first two prototypes were printed through Shapeways, while the third was a Makerbot creation. The final prototype, which can be seen in the images, was made by Red Eye on Demand, a company attached to Stratasys that will print STL files on demand and who used a type of ABS material.

As soon as Luo's internet campaigns come to a close, he will print and construct these microscopes himself. He will be using a Form1 + 3D printer to do so, which was incidentally also bought through crowd funding. This is a user-friendly desktop 3D printer produced by Formlabs. Discussing his choice for 3D printing, Luo explained that traditional injection moulding methods would not only make him dependant on companies but also included multiple design limitations that would negatively affect the look, weight and size of his microscope. Choosing 3D printing will allow him to avoid all these problems, while not affecting his production costs as he will be printing the components himself. As he explained in a recent update:

But! This is not a step down in quality, it is by all means a Step Up! The Form1+ 3D printer has the best print quality out of all the consumer 3D printers and a lot of the commercial ones too. In terms of quality, it might actually be better than these nearly $400 prototypes I've been ordering. […] Finally if I come up with any more improvements, I can work them in up until I start producing them. This production change is completely within the budget and will not result in addition charges.

Panoramic image of a bee worker leg at ~67x (30x optical with 3x digital)

While still in development, this product nonetheless illustrates the advantages of 3D printing, which allows users to experiment with technology and explore their interests on a small scale and on a small budget. Luo, who has a background in molecular cell biology, is very passionate about sharing knowledge and spreading awareness about nature. He believes that accessible and affordable technology, like his Catalyst Frame Microscope, will accomplish that.

'There's so much life out there, so many tiny, tiny organisms," Luo explained during his internet fundraising campaigns. "When you realize that is right in front of you in a little tiny cup of water... it will make a huge difference for the next generation. I'm hearing from doctors, vets, and teachers -- and Kickstarter is cool and all -- but I can't wait to get all these [printed] and ship them out and see what people can do with them.'

Watch Luo explain how he developed this product.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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momo wrote at 11/8/2014 3:26:40 PM:

It is really making science more accessible! Technology have made easy all .

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