LONDON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- An inverted microscope, a high-tech tool used in science labs at research centers all over the world, can cost upwards of $10,000. But when researchers at Brunel University London needed more than one to run multiple simultaneous tests, they considered a cheaper alternative -- a cheap USB microscope turned upside down.
Adam Lynch and his colleagues, who were attempting to study cell motility, needed inverted microscopes to automatically test multiple cell samples. But while Lynch needed the magnification offered by high-powered machines, he didn't need a high resolution image.
"When you're looking at motility in cells you're only interested in the data -- how fast the cell gets from A to B means more than a high-resolution image," Lynch explained in press release. "Even with a high-cost microscope you will reduce the image down so that it's just a black dot on the screen moving against a white background so that it's easier for a computer to read."
By combining the forces of three USB microscopes he purchased online, Lynch was able to replicate the effects of an inverted microscope for a fraction of the cost. Lynch estimates he spent approximately $250 on the DIY microscope. The hack wasn't perfect, but it was good enough to allow Lynch and his colleagues to complete their study.
"It worked OK, as I could sort of see cells, which are about 50 micrometers long, but the images weren't fantastic," he said. "But people don't realize that you can quite easily make a high-magnification microscope, it's just a matter of getting a lens and the right angle of lighting, so when I turned off the lighting that came with the instrument and used external lights I found I could see the cells quite clearly."
Lynch detailed his engineering feat in the latest issue of PLOS ONE.
"If money is no object you can do something better," Lynch admitted, "but money certainly is an object and really the only way we could get meaningful data without spending a disproportionate amount of time in the lab was this."