Ever wonder what weird microorganisms are crawling around on your kitchen counter? Or, perhaps you'd like a close-up view of those dust bunnies in the corner of your room. Well, there's a new pocket-size tool that could help you take a much closer look at these and other household specimens.
A sleek, smartphone-powered microscope, dubbed μPeek, recently reached its funding goal on Kickstarter. The device, which attaches to the back of any smartphone (over the top of the camera lens), is about the size of a credit card and is controlled via an app, allowing you to view crystal-clear images of tiny objects and make adjustments to the microscope right on your phone.
But the powerful microscope isn't "just another magnifying lens for your smartphone," Patrick Galliker, co-founder and CEO of Scrona, the company behind μPeek, said in a Kickstarter video promoting the new device. The microscope is equipped with a motorized lens and sophisticated optical components — two things usually found on expensive (and relatively big) professional microscopes. [Gift Ideas for Kids: Best Educational Toys & Games of 2015]
To use μPeek, attach the device to your phone and place it on any surface that you want to look at on the microscopic level. You can peer at the microcosm contained within the living room carpet or get a close-up view of a fallen leaf, for example. If you'd rather use μPeek to look at something on a microscope slide, you can do that, too. The device comes with a standard-size slide holder and a set of blank slides, plus a guide that explains how to prepare specimens.
The company's Kickstarter video shows the device being used in a variety of settings, including what appears to be a professional laboratory. Though μPeek definitely does not look like conventional microscopes, it really could be useful for real-life scientists, Galliker explained in the video. In fact, the scope is so "simple and powerful" that it's likely to become a professional scientist's "first choice," he said.
And it's useful in other environments, as well. The device's affordability — the standard μPeek is expected to retail for $159 — and its tiny size make it a practical tool for science classrooms. Since you can fit μPeek in your pocket, it can also be used anywhere, like out in the woods, or on the beach. Scrona is also offering another version of the device, μPeek Blue, which is equipped with UV lights so that it can be used as a fluorescence microscope. The more advanced scope is expected to retail for $219.
While you can't go out and buy a μPeek just yet, Galliker said the device should be available for purchase online during the second half of 2016. So, get those specimens ready!
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Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.