makerbot as microscope: what we learned

Joel Belouet has been work­ing on an art piece involv­ing microor­gan­isms and needed a sup­port struc­ture for his micro­scope cam­era. It turns out the Maker­Bot sit­ting on our table was the solu­tion.

At first Joel attached the cam­era to the z axis and the slide rested on the build plat­form, but it soon became clear that it would be much bet­ter to have the sam­ple remain still and the cam­era move instead. Invert­ing the posi­tions meant attach­ing the slide to the bot­tom of the z axis plat­form in order to pre­vent the cam­era lens from bump­ing against it. This setup also allowed him to use the z crank as a focus mech­a­nism.

So we were happy with the phys­i­cal setup which, in con­junc­tion with ReplicatorG’s con­trol panel, proved very use­ful for find­ing and track­ing microor­gan­isms within the sam­ple.

But we also wanted to try an auto­mated scan.

So the next step was to gen­er­ate a path for the cam­era. We made a bunch of exper­i­ments with MakerBot’s Frostruder Tool Sweet, but even­tu­ally an stl + ske­in­forge, with a fee­drate of 12 mm/m, turned out to be the best solu­tion.

Finally, the micro­scope cam­era (which is a cheap web­cam with a macro lens that Joel flipped upside down) was con­nected to his Pro­cess­ing script that records both video and stills from the incom­ing video feed.


Video of fist auto­mated scan (sam­ple is moss from a well).

Joel will con­tinue to work on this as part of his art project, but this setup seems to be use­ful for a few other things:
— Record micro­scopic images of each and every area of a sam­ple: just feed the maker­bot a grid-like design, set the pro­cess­ing script to take a photo of each quad­rant, go enjoy the great out­doors, and when you return to the lab you’ll have all the images wait­ing for you on your hard drive.
— Auto­mat­i­cally cap­ture images of live bac­te­ria: we’ll try to do this by hav­ing the pro­cess­ing script track cer­tain types of motion and cap­ture stills when it’s detected.
— Some dancers here at the AZ res­i­dency also became very inter­ested in using it as live video feed for per­for­mance.

Well, that’s it for now. We’re going to get more cof­fee and think of a way to make an action movie star­ring nema­todes and tardi­grades 🙂