Scientists are building microscopes out of old iPhone 5 cameras and LEGO

iPhone 5 camera
iPhone 5 camera (Image credit: Apple)

What you need to know

  • Scientists at the University of Göttingen and Münster University are building cheap microscopes out of old iPhones.
  • Old iPhone 5 cameras and LEGO are being turned into inexpensive tools to avoid costly alternatives.

Scientists at the University of Göttingen and Münster University are using old iPhone 5 cameras and LEGO to build cheap high-resolution microscopes in place of expensive lab equipment.

According to a report by The Register, the scientists involved found that costly apparatus was causing people to avoid getting involved in science. They wanted to find a way to combat that – and a new Frankenstein's monster of a device was born.

As well as the Lego bricks, which form the bulk of the build, the project needed high-quality optical lenses. Two of these – a pair of acrylic ocular lenses combined with transparent tape into a single unit, and a glass low-magnification objective – are readily available. The high-magnification objective comes from somewhere else: recycled smartphones.

That high-magnification objective comes in the form of an iPhone 5 camera lens, apparently bought on eBay for a couple of dollars each. The team notes that the iPhone 5 camera models cost between €2 and €4, or $2.40-4.80.

After removing "all the fancy electronics" that aren't needed, the lens is put into its new home and a microscope is born. Now anyone can buy the parts needed – and use the guide the scientists have created – to build a microscope of their own. The guide is available in English, German, Dutch, and Spanish currently but the team says they welcome contributions that could make it available in other languages as well.

Anyone wanting to have a go at building their own microscope can find the instructions on GitHub today. Just don't go taking that new iPhone 12 Pro apart to borrow its camera lens, OK?

These are the best iPhone deals available today, but I'd still suggest heading to eBay if you want to take an iPhone apart!

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.