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Turn an old microscope into a live cell imaging device

Turn an old microscope into a live cell imaging device

Microscopes are common pieces of equipment in laboratories (or even high school science classes for that matter), but making movies of living cells usually requires more expensive and specialized tools… until now. With a 3D-printed mount for a smartphone and an Arduino, researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University have been able to retrofit ordinary microscopes to take time-lapse sequences.

To accomplish this, an Arduino was used to control a shutter for the smartphone to minimize light exposure when capturing intermittent images, while a heating unit was employed to maintain a constant temperature for the tiny organisms.

The control unit was built using an Arduino Nano, a Bluetooth communication module, a power transistor, and a voltage regulator. The control unit was connected to a standard computer power supply unit and then used to provide power at the appropriate voltages to the other components of system, i.e. the heating element (12V), the fan (12V), the temperature sensors (5V) and finally the shutter’s servo motor (5V). The control unit was used to operate the shutter’s servo motor via Bluetooth, and also to control the temperature inside the incubator by adjusting the power supplied to the heating element.

In the future, this modular and affordable system, called ATLIS, could increase the accessibility of time-lapse microscopy for the wider research community. The total cost for all of its components (excluding the phone and microscope) was only $277, a mere fraction of the price for commercially available equipment.

You can read more about the project on and find the team’s full study here.

(Photo: Linda Koffmar /