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Smartphone microscope kit promises up to 1,000x magnification

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Supercharging the camera in your pocket

DIPLE’s 35x zoom examining the head of a fly.
Image: SmartMicroOptics

Everyone knows the rise of smartphones has put powerful cameras in our pockets, but we forget these cameras can also be transformed into powerful microscopes. Enter DIPLE, a Kickstarter that promises to supercharge your phone with up to 1,000 times magnification, allowing you to examine microorganisms, bacteria, and even your own blood cells.

The team behind DIPLE (pronounced “dipple”) previously made BLIPS, a series of stick-on smartphone lenses that we reviewed back in 2016. We thought BLIPS were fun, but getting good results took patience. Stick-on lenses are lightweight and easy to apply, but their focal point is difficult to align, meaning images were often blurry and distorted.

DIPLE is a very different beast, offering a static, back-lit setup for more stable microscopy. It trades portability for consistent results and higher levels of magnification. DIPLE also makes the use of prepared slides (when a sample is sandwiched between two pieces of glass) much easier. The kit is smallish, the size of a smartphone box, and it offers three levels of magnification (35x, 75x, and 150x), which can be increased using your phone’s zoom.

The makers of DIPLE, SmartMicroOptics, says users will be able to achieve up to 1,000x magnification “before getting any pixelation,” though that will depend in part on the capacity of individuals’ smartphones. (You can check out lots of DIPLE sample images on SmartMicroOptics’ Instagram page.)

A rotifer microorganism viewed through DIPLE’s 75x lens.
Image: SmartMicroOptics

DIPLE is far from the only smartphone microscope kit available, and there are lots of ways to achieve similar results. DIY setups are the cheapest, costing as little as $10, but without the same levels of magnification. USB microscopes are another option, ranging in price from $20 to $200 (and up). But the cheaper models often exaggerate their magnification levels, as SmartMicroOptics notes in a comparison video.

All that means we’re interested to see how DIPLE stacks up. Early bird prices start at €36 ($40) for just the 35x zoom, and they go up to $120 for all three zooms and a special stage for the highest-quality results. It’s pricey compared to the original $30 BLIPS, and that means DIPLE will have to compete with more expensive, dedicated microscopes. We’ll hopefully take a closer look in the future.