Wanna see the bacteria that hang out in your mouth?

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I recently came across the MicrobeScope on Kickstarter.  I am a fan of crowdfunding, have pitched my own project once upon a time on IndieGoGo, and generally find these sites great sources of random inspiration.  Generally more a contributor to causes than products, I actually could not resist funding (and, hopefully in June, possessing) the MicrobeScope, a pocket-sized instrument that is attached to your smart phone to deliver up to 2000x magnification of, well, whatever you want to investigate in great detail.

I teach biology at a local community college.  Learning to use a microscope is one of the most worthwhile – and frustrating – skills we teach in the laboratory course.  Students are often not used to the idea of having to fumble and fail while searching for a tiny, translucent cell (or, worse, part of a cell); having seen beautiful, full-color micrographs in their past, many expect that very image to immediately pop into their field of view when they peer into the ocular lens.  Well, the MicrobeScope (at least, as it appears in their videos) is about to worsen the expectation of instant gratification; images seem to come clearly into focus the moment a sample is dropped onto the inverted lens.  No slides or cover slips are used, and there are no focus knobs to crank.  According to its Kickstarter webpage, the MicrobeScope is “capable of viewing sub 1micron features of individual bacteria and other life forms at the physical limits of optical resolution. It works great in the field, in the lab, or at home yet is simple enough for a child to use.”

I am excited by this pocket-sized piece of technology.  For one thing, it would be cheaper and more powerful than the binocular compound light microscopes currently in use at my college.  But, furthermore, the ability to instantaneously visualize the microscopic features of WHATEVER you want – be that the insides of your cheeks, that flapping scab from the cut on your elbow, your morning green smoothie, a flea, a fallen leaf, hot sauce (I mean, the list doesn’t end) – would allow anyone to be a scientist anywhere.  This could be huge in terms of promoting students’ interest in biology, chemistry, and physics.

Now, to be honest, I do not have the MicrobeScope and have never tried it out for myself.  My personal scope will hopefully arrive this summer.  I will provide a report at that time as to whether it delivers on its grand promises.  If it does, I hope to raise enough funds to purchase more MicrobeScopes for my students to use.

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