Microscopic reforms

A British re-think of a 400-year-old design brings both portability and style

The basic design of the optical microscope has gone unchallenged in 400 years – until now. A British designer has lately done a make-over on this classic instrument, and come up with a new, hand-held device, not much bigger than a CD player.

The basic design of the optical microscope has gone unchallenged in 400 years – until now. A British designer has lately done a make-over on this classic instrument, and come up with a new, hand-held device, not much bigger than a CD player.

Zacharias Janssen is credited with building the first microscope, in the Netherlands in the 1590s. Most microscopes have two sets of glass lenses set in a barrel-like chamber, an eyepiece and a source of light to illuminate the specimen. These compound microscopes use one short focal length lens – the eyepiece – to magnify the image created by a second lens, the objective lens, which is placed closer to the object.

Save for a few refinements here and there, the basic idea has remained unchanged. As any microscopist will tell you, however, the big problem with such a design is that these heavy "line-of-sight" microscopes that look down on the specimen are best suited to a laboratory bench, so that anyone working outside usually has to bring samples to the microscope, rather than taking the microscope into the field.

Now, Rick Dickinson, the former head designer for Clive Sinclair, the computer entrepreneur, has come up with a microscope that uses folded optics to create an instrument that is both portable and surprisingly stylish. The specimen is held in place with a magnetic disc, and the lenses and mirrors are built into a circular case that fits neatly into the palm of the hand. The object is lit by a small, angle-poised light that slides across the top of the object, and the rubber eye piece can be reversed to suit either left or right-eyed people.

Enhelion, the Cambridge company behind this new Micron microscope, has already won a clutch of design awards for its product, which it says is no toy, even though it has proved a hit with schoolchildren who have road-tested it (one 10-year-old I know wants to take it on holiday with him). Vets in Australia have used the Micron to diagnose animal diseases on remote farms from blood and urine samples, vets in Korea have used it to check sperm before artificial insemination, and horticulturalists in the UK have found it useful for identifying plant pests in the field.

Pete Whitbread-Abrutat, the senior scientist on the Eden Project in Cornwall, is another enthusiast. "Our science team road-tested the Enhelion Micron and found it to be a very valuable piece of equipment. Its lightweight, compact and ergonomic design, and ease of use, made it very practical," he said.

A small fitting to the eyepiece allows the microscope to be attached to a digital or SLR camera for photographing whatever is being viewed. Magnification is to a professional standard, with a choice of either x80 or x160. Unfortunately, the price (about £85) is also professional, although Enhelion is developing a lower-magnification version for about half the price.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution