Take a Close Look at Backyard Microscopy

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Recently, I tried to make a Leeuwenhoek style magnifying glass/microscope by drawing a bit of glass tubing into a ball using a propane torch (along the lines of the project in Make Magazine Vol 20.) This primitive type of microscope has very short eye relief and since my eyes aren’t what they used to be, I just couldn’t bring anything into focus. Maybe it’s just me.

So, despite my best DIY intentions, I needed to go commercial to really look at bugs close up. As reported in an earlier post, I’ve had good luck with a Celestron portable optical/digital microscope. When hooked up to my computer, I’ve been able to take still pictures and videos at high (200X) magnification. Here’s a video I made of an ant using it. The cool part is that it’s powerful enough to zoom in on a mite on the ant:

Even simpler and cheaper is the Carson MM-200 Micromax LED 60X-100X LED-Lighted Pocket Microscope which I just picked up. It retails for about $10 and has the highest ratio of scientific utility per dollar of any device I’ve ever used. Certainly, it’s not for pros, but the optics are fine for young folks desiring to get a very close look at nearly anything in the backyard.

Bill Gurstelle is a contributing editor at Make Magazine and Popular Mechanics. His new book, The Practical Pyromaniac is available in bookstores everywhere.

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