Dr. Dan Kott, a member of our local maker community, came to us with a problem. He had come across a microscope automation project created by a pathologist in Australia. Because of other commitments, the Australian doctor was unable to complete the project, and Dan wanted to complete it.
The idea is this: automate an inexpensive, but good quality, microscope. In other words, motorize the stage. Instead of manually moving knobs, motors and a microcontroller would take the place of your hands.
Why do this?
- You can make the microscope joystick controlled. This means you can remotely move around a slide. Very handy in a teaching situation where a video camera is connected to the microscope and the teacher is pointing at an overhead projection.
- Samples can be “marked up” for reference. An automated scope knows exactly where X/Y are on the sample slide. Therefore, a physician can find an element of interest, say a cancer, note it’s location, then give the slide and location to a student for review. (“See position 1456, 2345 — that’s an abnormal cell wall.”)
- Slides can be automatically scanned. The automated microscope setup means that an entire slide can be photographed in very high resolution. Those photos can be “stitched” together to make a single high resolution image.
While Dan had some videos of the rig, and copies of the 3D models for holding the motors, there were a number of challenges. These included:
- Creating gears which would fit onto the existing knobs of a common series of microscope.
- Determining which stepper motor controllers and software to use.
- Choosing a microcontroller and writing code for it.
- Getting the basic setup to work, so that additional functionality can be added.
First stop: the gears.