The house at Bag End

Toying around with science

Dig this. The company Digital Blue recently started making an $89 toy microscope that can magnify objects up to 200X, and take little digital pictures of them. The creators figured it’d be a hit amongst junior nerds. But the real audience turns out to be … actual university scientists. It seems that the nigh-disposability of the unit turns out to be an advantage with certain types of experiments, as the Wall Street Journal points out:

Andrew Westphal, an astrophysicist at the University of California at Berkeley, says he was recently able to examine some microscopic dust from outer space with the help of the RX5’s plastic lens. That is because a conventional microscope’s glass lens would have suffered from the hydrofluoric acid used to separate the particles from other elements. “Had it not been for the toy, we would have been at a loss,” he says.

What’s more, it’s allowing for a form of telemedicine:

Meanwhile, patients suffering from Morgellons, a rare type of skin disease, have been getting medical information by using the microscope in sending images of their lesions to Morgellons Research Foundation in McMurray, Pa. The toy is “made for kids so it’s pretty easy to us” to use, says Mary Leitao, the foundation’s executive director. Collectors of stamps and sports memorabilia are also using the microscope for authentication purposes, Digital Blue says.

I love it. Technopundits used to assume that remote medicine would roll out only slowly, since far-off communities would need hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy scanning equipment. Of course, things move a little more quickly when the microscopes cost less than a pair of Nikes.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson