University of São Paulo: USP professors and students develop affordable microscopes made using 3D printing

Created in the 16th century, the microscope revolutionized the practice and development of science. So much so that today there are devices that allow scientists to see objects a million times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. In classrooms, they can make the learning moment more stimulating and interactive, allowing students to visualize what they are studying in textbooks, bringing theory to the concrete plane.

Thinking about making microscopes accessible to public schools, since having one of these equipments requires investment and preparation of education professionals, researchers and students from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences (ICB) at USP developed an affordable device made with a 3D printer and lenses reused microscopes, used in conjunction with a cell phone.

As the idea is to use the accessible microscope for science classes, in the study of animal and plant organic tissues, the kit created also includes 10 slides with histological pieces and explanatory material on each of the slides. All samples are prepared by the participants of the Digital Microscope and Histological Slides project for Public Schools , coordinated by Professor Dania Emi Hamassaki from the ICB’s Department of Cell Biology and Development.

She explains that the initiative seeks to meet a demand that arose due to another work developed at the institute, the Microscopy Course, which is getting ready to take place again in person in 2022.

The ICB Microscopy Instrumental Course is a university extension project that connects USP to basic education institutions. Aimed at teachers of the natural sciences, it seeks to democratize knowledge about histology and the handling of the microscope. As a way of helping public school teachers to doactically apply what was learned in the course, USP teachers and students provide a kit of histological slides free of charge to be analyzed during classes.

Dania says that even though they had the histological material to work with, the professors who had completed the course ran into a problem. “The elementary and high school teachers took the extension course and took a box with the blades. But not all schools had a microscope to analyze the material”.

It was thinking about solving this obstacle that teachers and students who study the area of ​​tissue biology began to think about ways to build microscopes. Initially, the idea was to use recyclable materials, but all the prototypes were too fragile to work inside the classroom.

Nutrition student Daniely Soares Lino Kertesz, who has been part of the project at ICB since 2019, explained that the idea of ​​using the 3D printer came from contact with other students who work on the development of hospital equipment. The first prototype was made of cardboard, and it took time, effort and creativity for the microscopes to reach their current format: “Little by little we were thinking and shaping the idea until we arrived at the 3D printer, which uses a low-cost material, the ABS polymer”, explained the student. From there, the project team learned how to use specific software to program microscope prototypes in the institute’s 3D printer.

“An important item in the kit are the lenses, which are the same ones used here within the department at USP. As we have several microscopes, some very old that are no longer in use, we started to collect those lenses that are most appropriate”, explains the coordinator.