iPad Microscopy

Being a science teacher, I have been experimenting with my iPad, trying to find a way of taking photos through the lens of an ordinary student microscope.  Science teachers whose students own iPads, will immediately see the benefit of this.  Rather than drawing what they see, students can take a photograph, and then import that into another app on the iPad to incorporate into a project.

The difficulty lies in (a) holding the iPad still enough to avoid motion blur, (b) lining the camera lens up with the microscope’s subjective lens (an alignment that must be exact) and (c), holding the iPad the right distance (about 4 mm) away from the microscope lens for the image to be in focus.  It’s not hard to glimpse a fleeting clear image, but holding that precise pose long enough to press the shutter button is frustratingly challenging!

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 2.10.53 PM

The first time I tried to do this I did manage to get a good photo – but it took me ten minutes of trying!  That is not realistic in a classroom with year 9 students, who may not be as patient as I am!   Patience may be a virtue that we should encourage in our students – but I don’t have time for that!  What I really want is a simple solution that will work 100% of the time.

The solution I found is really simple.  It’s a $2 app called Fast Camera.  Fast camera shoots photos faster than an assault rifle shoots bullets!  I measured 720 photos per minute! (whereas an AK-47 fires a meagre 600 rounds per minute).  You hit the camera button and click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click… it goes.  With the camera firing like that, you can hold the iPad above the microscope lens, and move it slowly around until a clear image makes its momentary appearance.   Once it does, you can stop the camera, leaf through the hundreds of thumbnails, and choose the best one to save to the iPad’s photo roll.  The other several hundred ‘mis-fires’ can be deleted at the click of a button.

Once you have a great photo in your iPad’s photo roll, it can be imported, just like any other photo, into other apps like Pages, Explain Everything or NoteShelf for comment and annotation.

Screen Shot 2013-03-30 at 4.47.20 PM

Photo imported and annotated in NoteShelf

Pretty cool, huh?

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8 thoughts on “iPad Microscopy

  1. Hi Andrew.
    That’s a pretty amazing article especially for me as a physicist.
    The point is that you found out a tricky solution to the problem. As I started reading your article I thought about a suitable mounting of the iPad which I found here in Germany. Your solution seems to be much more innovative as it doesn’t restrict the mobility.
    Thanks a lot and Happy Easter!

    • Thanks for your comment. It is possible to make a mount for the iPad – using bluetak and a film canister, or some other makeshift arrangement – essentially anything that will help you to line the iPad up with the subjective lens and hold it 4mm away from the ocular – but yes, I think this solution is just simpler and faster – and doesn’t require any additional bits and bobs.

  2. Thanks for sharing your solution ! I found this article about an iPad/iPhone/camera telescopic mobile rack (http://www.pocketables.com/2013/02/accessory-review-35-80-telescopic-arm-mount-for-phones-and-tablets.html) and gave it a try !! I absolutely love it ! It allows me to create great movies or pictures for my students. I can’t wait to have one in my classroom !
    The item can be found at http://dx.com/p/universal-table-bed-360-degree-rotation-telescopic-mobile-rack-for-iphone-ipad-ipod-black-184218

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  5. Ola! Andrewdouch,
    On a similar note, I already have a laptop,kindle,i-touch and computer what would the ipad do for me that i don’t already have and can do? Would it be worth it? For $500.00 IS IT REALY WOTH IT.
    Thanks
    Catch you again soon!

    • If you are talking about microscopy, then you can do the same thing with your iPod Touch – which has a very similar camera. You don’t need an iPad for that. I think the iPad is a great student device – but it’s not the only great device and most of the things you can do with an iPad you can do with other devices too. Anything with a decent camera would do what I’m talking about here (though it would be hard to angle the laptop webcam down a microscope, lol.

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