Oct 6, 2016 | By Alec

Learn as you play: it’s a principle that is being increasingly applied to education everywhere, especially through the digitization of classrooms. The idea is that by making education interactive and enjoyable, children could be more open to learning and will be more likely to pursue higher education – especially in the STEM fields. 3D printing could play a huge role in that process, as it makes those scientific projects tangible and interactive. Researchers from Stanford have therefore decided to combine 3D printing with another revolutionary technology that is within reach: smartphones. Through the LudusScope, a 3D printed smartphone-powered microscope, they are seeking to bring the basics of microbiology to kids of all ages.

While the LudusScope is by no means as powerful as a lab microscope, it is a fantastic toy that I would’ve loved to have as a kid. Consisting of a 3D printed body that harnesses your phone’s camera and flash for microscopy purposes, it allows kids to play a series of games and even study a few light-seeking microbes such as Euglena – a fantastic educational toy for use in classrooms. This is also reflected in its name, as Ludus means ‘play’, ‘game’ or ‘elementary school’. Of course a microscope eyepiece is needed to get a proper view. Using a joystick, they can even alter the microbes’ swimming direction and see the results through their phone’s camera.

As assistant professor of bioengineering Ingmar Riedel-Kruse revealed, they are hoping to fill a gap in interactive science education with the LudusScope. “Many subject areas like engineering or programming have neat toys that get kids into it, but microbiology does not have that to the same degree,” Riedel-Kruse said. “The initial idea for this project was to play games with living cells on your phone. And then it developed much beyond that to enable self-driven inquiry, measurement and building your own instrument.” Riedel-Kruse developed the toy together with graduate student Honest Kim, and the results have just been published in the PLOS ONE journal. Additional authors include Lukas C. Gerber, Daniel Chiu, Seung Ah Lee, Nate Cira and Sherwin Yuyang Xia.

What’s more, the basic concept can be adapted for many more purposes through the smartphone’s software. They can even layer cell images with game-like programs that lets children get to grips with the basics of microbiology while they’re playing. One game is even reminiscent of Pac-Man, featuring a maze with small white dots that need to be guided around using LED lights. Another game resembles a soccer match, with goals being scored by guiding Euglena through the goal posts.

Microscopic scale-bars, speed displays and zooming opportunities will also enable the kids to collect data on Euglena behavior and biology. Riedel-Kruse hopes that teachers will even set up design courses during which kids try to recreate what they see in accessible CAD software – which is already becoming commonplace in curriculums.

The LudusScope actually grew out of one of the regular bioengineering classes taught at Stanford. Featuring vastly more complex parts, Riedel Kruse began thinking about scaling it down so even middle-schoolers could interact with it. And as 3D printers can increasingly be found in schools, teachers should be able to just 3D print a couple of open-source models and combine that with a handful of apps. Aside from the microscopic lens, students would only need a joystick controller. The Euglena are already commonly used in classrooms, and are purchased through biological supply companies.

Riedel-Kruse further argued that the LudusScope perfectly aligned with the new educational guidelines set out by the Next Generation Science Standards, and believes that the act of building, observing, interacting and modeling the cells will appeal to a lot of kids of various ages.

So far, the response from high school students and teachers visiting a walk-by science event was very positive, although they were less impressed by the game aspect than by the technological properties. “I thought the interactive cell stimulation and the resulting games was the coolest thing but the teachers and students didn’t necessarily agree,” Riedel-Kruse said on the Stanford website. “What they were more excited about is the more basic things like the ability to build your own instrument, that multiple people can see the screen at the same time and that you can select and track individual cells.”

Unfortunately, the LudusScope is not ready for classrooms just yet. Riedel-Kruse is currently working to integrate teacher and student feedback, and has already received a seed grant that would allow him to carry out more user studies with an educational game company. A kit could be could follow within the next year.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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