Instituto de Óptica “Daza de Valdés”

A review on low-cost microscopes for Open Science

14 Sep, 2022 | Ciencias de la imagen-en

Are you interested in low-cost scientific microscopes? A comparison of the 23 most successful works published in the last decade on optical microscopes with open hardware has been published.

During this beginning of the 21st century, multiple factors have favored an explosion of new open and affordable projects of technologies related to optical microscopes.

Currently, optical microscopes are a very useful tool in public health for the diagnosis of diseases and also for environmental studies, such as quality control of aquatic ecosystems. In addition to their great utility in these areas of knowledge, microscopes are an important tool for training and dissemination within the life sciences.
However, the high price of powerful microscopes is an important limitation for institutions with tight budgets or for their use in general health plans aimed at the population of developing countries with a high incidence of diseases (for example, in the case of malaria).

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To provide a solution to these needs, important advances related to digital image processing and artificial vision have been developed that have promoted accessible and cheap optical microscopy solutions through the use of open hardware and software (OHS).
Photos of a large clip-shaped adapter to be able to use a mobile camera as a microscope

Mobile phone microscope

These advances have been possible thanks to the conjunction of several factors:

  • The availability of open source libraries such as OpenCV (Open Computer Vision) for the development of computer vision and image processing software, together With the popularity of programming languages ​​such as Java and Python, it has allowed the appearance of a huge number of projects.
  • The constant improvement of photo camera sensors has made possible low-cost projects associated with imaging systems.
  • Another factor driving these advances is the increasing processing power of smartphones.
  • The continuous advance of telecommunications has allowed the deployment of services for the remote processing of digital images and videos provided by clients with limited resources, promoting new scenarios for telemicroscopy.
  • The emergence of open hardware platforms such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi (RPi), along with compatible input/output devices, function as affordable platforms that act as intelligent controllers. Such hardware is used in both educational and specialized projects, following the Maker philosophy and open science.
  • And finally, most open hardware related projects require custom brackets and adapters, which are very often made with the help of 3D printers, which have made it easier to build both the physical structure and the hardware. the necessary couplings to integrate the components of a functional prototype.

In this article, researchers from the Visilab group of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, and from the Imaging and Vision Sciences Group of the Institute of Optics have presented a review of the 23 most important works done in the last decade on open-hardware light microscopes as a low-cost alternative to commercial systems.

The team has classified the solutions analyzed into two main categories: portable or field microscopes and multipurpose automatic microscopes, studying the degree of maturity of the solutions in terms of adopting practices aligned with the development of Open Science.

The two works that stand out in each of the categories for adopting Open Science practices and providing high-impact solutions are Foldscope and OpenFlexure, which have managed to generate a large community around them.

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