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With This Smart Microscope, You Can Play Pac-Man With Live Microbes

Shaunacy Ferro
Screenshot via YouTube
Screenshot via YouTube / Screenshot via YouTube

A 3D-printed microscope attachment can turn scientific observation into a video game. LudusScope, a smartphone microscope designed by Stanford University researchers, could be a low-cost way to get kids invested in biology, its creators write in a paper in PLOS One. As reported by Gizmodo, the microscope can be connected to a phone to allow you to play games with microbes, particularly Euglena, a single-cell microorganism that’s attracted to light and often used in science labs.

LudusScope consists of a 3D-printed microscope with four LED lights controlled by a joystick. A smartphone holder keeps your phone camera positioned over the microscope eyepiece so you can see what’s going on in the microscope slide. Android software (the code is freely available on GitHub) allows you to play games by superimposing images over the view of the slide, so that, for instance, it looks like the bacteria are roaming around a soccer field.

Kim et al., PLOS One (2016)

Because the microbes respond to light, you can guide their movements with the LEDs. One game allows user to turn one of the microorganisms into Pac-Man, while another turns one into a soccer ball ready to be lured between the goalposts by the LED flashes. The software also tracks the real-time speed of the Euglena’s movements. Other programs included are purely educational, allowing you to collect data on the microorganisms' behavior.

The PLOS One study showed that 12-year-olds could successfully assemble the LudusScope by themselves using basic instructions provided, and a second demo with 10 high school students found that all 10 were able to operate the microscope and accurately make observations of and draw the Euglena they saw. According to the researchers, building the full set-up on your own would cost about $100, but if you already have access to a 3D printer—as some schools do—it would only be $60, and even less if you just build the attachment to use on a standard microscope. They estimate that mass-producing the microscope (rather than 3D printing it) would lower the cost to about $30 per microscope.

Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, the Stanford bioengineer whose lab developed the technology, is currently working with an educational game company to develop science kits that would be available within the next year.

If you’re interested in building the kit for yourself, there are instructions in the paper’s supplementary materials.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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